How Do I Safely Remove a Tick?

The Safest Method of Removal

Wood Tick, Dermacentor variabilis, (aka Dog Tick, American Dog Tick, Hard Tick). Adult Female tick on human skin. Northern Ontario, Canada.
S.J. Krasemann/Getty Images

Most tick bites are minor, but some can transmit bacteria that cause seriously scary health problems, such as Lyme disease and Rocky Mountain spotted fever. In the event that a tick does attach itself, there are a few important measures that need to be taken. Removing a tick isn't as easy as plucking it off of the skin.

How to Remove a Tick

There are several different theories about the best way to remove a tick.

Some even involve an open flame. Here's the safest way to do it:

  1. Remove the tick as soon as you see it. Check for ticks on yourself, your children and your pets after spending time outdoors, especially if it's tick season: spring, summer, and fall. In climates that are warm year-round, it's always tick season. Ticks can attach anywhere on the body, but they are most often found on the scalp, in the hair, behind the ears, on the neck, in the armpits, under the breasts, inside the belly button, around the waist, in the groin, behind the knees, and between the toes. For a self-check, it's best to do it naked in bright lighting in front of a mirror.
  2. Grab a pair of tweezers. Use tweezers to grasp the tick near its head or mouth, getting as close to the surface of the skin as possible. Pull upward gently and steadily so as not to crush the tick and keep its mouth parts intact. Other methods of removal include applying a hot match, petroleum jelly, rubbing alcohol or fingernail polish, but they aren't recommended. Using a trusty pair of tweezers is by far the safest method.
  1. Pull the tick firmly. You should pull with just enough pressure to lift up the skin. Keep holding this position and the tick will back out. It might take 
  2. Be gentle. It's important that you don't crush the tick's body because its fluids might contain dangerous bacteria.
  3. Dispose of the tick. If the tick wasn't attached, you likely don't need to keep it. Put it in the sink and hold a lit match to it to kill it. If it did attach, you might want to save it. In that case, put it in a plastic bag or container in the freezer. If you end up developing symptoms after a tick bite, you will be able to show your doctor what it looks like.
  1. Wash your hands. Thoroughly clean your hands with soap and water. Be sure to clean the affected area, as well as surrounding skin.
  2. Watch for signs of illness. A fever or rash in the days or weeks following a tick bite are causes for concern.

When to See Your Doctor

If you found the tick before it was able to latch onto your skin, you don't necessarily need to keep it, but if you did get a tick bite, you might want to hang onto it. As previously mentioned, most tick bites are relatively minor, but there are a few cases when you should see your doctor:

  • The tick wasn't completely removed. The longer the tick is attached to the skin, the greater the risk of developing a disease.
  • You develop a rash. It's normal for a small, red bump to appear at the site of the bite, but if it turns into a rash, see your doctor. A rash with a bullseye pattern, for example, is indicative of Lyme disease.
  • You develop flu-like symptoms. See a doctor if you have a fever, chills, fatigue, body aches and headaches.
  • The bite is infected. If the site of the bite is red or oozing, it's probably infected.

Call 911 if you develop a severe headache, heart palpitations, paralysis or have difficulty breathing.


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