How To Remove a Tick Correctly

The Right Way to Remove a Tick Without Making It Worse

tick in human skin
Ticks bury their heads to gorge on blood. Himagine / Getty Images

Ticks aren't like other bugs. They don't just bite; they burrow in head-first and stay there, drinking your blood like little, bloated, ugly vampires. Ticks are dangerous because they can cause Lyme disease and need to be removed as soon as they are discovered.

Find the Tick

Most of the time, a tick bite won't look any different than any other bug bite, except for the giant, blood-engorged tick hanging out of it.

If you do not see a tick, then it could've been any critter so treat the bite like any other bug bite.

To find ticks, check frequently when you've been in areas where they are found (wooded and grassy areas are the most common). Check for ticks in areas of the body that get moist:

  • under arms
  • groin
  • buttocks
  • waist
  • belly button
  • neck
  • backs of knees

Tools You Need

  • Small-tipped tweezers
  • Glasses or magnifying glass (unless you are young and have perfect eyes)
  • Gloves or tissue

Steps to Remove a Tick

  1. Stay Safe! Follow universal precautions and wear personal protective equipment if you have it.
  2. Grasp the tick with the tweezers very close to the skin.
  3. Pull with gentle, constant pressure. Pulling too hard will tear the tick and leave some behind. Take your time. The tick is trying to hold on, but you'll win. Let's face it: you're way bigger than the tick.
  4. Examine the tick to make sure all of it has been removed. Look for the tick's mouth parts to be intact. It looks like you would think it looks: disgusting. It has angled jaws and an arrow-shaped head.
  1. If any of the tick is missing, seek medical attention immediately. If anything is missing, it's going to be the head. It's missing because it's still buried under the skin. It's most likely going to cause an infection, which is why you need to go to the doctor now. Don't call 911, but do go to the urgent care clinic for a same-day appointment.
  1. Save the tick in an airtight container (do not touch it with bare hands). It's carrying bacteria that can make you sick, even if it doesn't bite you again.
  2. Watch the patient for several days. If signs of Lyme disease are seen, seek medical help immediately. The first and most telltale sign of Lyme disease is the bullseye rash.

What Not to Do

  1. DO NOT twist or pull the tick. You'll wrench off the tick's head and have to go to the doctor.
  2. DO NOT try to burn the tick. When you heat up a tick with a match, it will probably back out--right after regurgitating all of your blood back into your body. It does that to make itself smaller in order to back out. When it pukes your blood, it also deposits a whole lot of extra bacteria. So, even though you got the tick to back out on its own, you'll be more likely to get Lyme disease.
  3. DO NOT try to smother the tick with petroleum jelly. See #2 above.
  4. DO NOT touch the tick with bare skin. It's going to make you sick.

Source:

Oteo JA, Martínez de Artola V, Gómez-Cadiñanos R, Casas JM, Blanco JR, Rosel L. [Evaluation of methods of tick removal in human ixodidiasis]. Rev Clin Esp. 1996 Sep;196(9):584-7. Spanish.

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