How to Protect Yourself Against Lyme Disease

adult tick (Ixodes scapularis) on grass - nature shot
Kerrick / Getty Images

Lyme disease is the most common tick-borne disorder in the United States. Lyme disease can affect the joints, nervous system, heart, skin, and eyes.

Lyme disease is transmitted through the bites of certain species of ticks.

  • Adult deer ticks are about the size of sesame seeds.
  • Nymphal ticks can be the size of the period at the end of this sentence.

Reducing exposure to ticks is your best defense against contracting Lyme disease.

Various methods can be used to prevent and control Lyme disease.

  1. Avoid Tick Infested Areas

    Ticks prefer wooded and bushy areas with tall grass and leaf litter. They can also inhabit lawns and gardens, especially at the edges of woodlands and near older stone walls. When you do enter tick areas, walk in the middle of trails to avoid contact with overgrown grass, bushes, and leaf litter.

    Take extra precautions May through July when ticks that transmit Lyme disease are most active. Ask the park service or local health department which areas are tick infested.

  2. Dress Appropriately

    • Wear long pants, long-sleeve shirts, and long socks to keep ticks off your skin.
    • Wear white or light-colored clothing making it easier to spot ticks.
    • Wear a hat.
    • Tie back long hair.
    • Wear shoes. (No bare feet or sandals)
    • Tuck pant legs into socks or boots and tuck shirts into pants to help keep ticks outside of clothing.
    • Taping the area where your pants and socks meet can prevent ticks from crawling under clothing.
    • Do not sit directly on the ground or near stone walls.
  1. Tick Repellents

    Spray tick repellent on clothes and shoes before entering areas infested with ticks. Use a repellent with 20 to 30% DEET (N,N-diethyl-meta-toluamide) on adult skin and clothes to help prevent tick bites.

    Permethrin is another type of repellent that kills ticks on contact. Permethrin can be found at stores that carry outdoor gear and products. One application to clothing and shoes typically is effective through several washings. Permethrin should not be applied directly to skin.

  1. Checking for Ticks

    Perform daily tick checks after being outdoors, even in your own yard. You should also inspect your pets. Carefully inspect all parts of your clothing, skin, and body including:

    • armpits
    • back of the knee
    • nape of the neck
    • navel area
    • scalp
    • groin area

    According to the American Lyme Disease Foundation (ALDF), your best line of defense against contracting Lyme disease is to examine yourself at least once daily and remove any ticks before they become engorged (swollen) with blood.

  2. If You Find a Tick

    If you do find a tick embedded in your skin, do not panic. Not all ticks are infected. According to ALDF, studies have shown that infected ticks normally cannot begin transmitting the spirochete (the bacterium that causes Lyme disease infection) until it has been attached for about 36-48 hours.

    Keep in mind, if you do find a deer tick attached to your skin that has not yet become engorged, it probably has not been there long enough to transmit Lyme disease infection.

  3. Removing a Tick

    You should remove a tick immediately using fine-tipped tweezers and save the tick for possible examination. Improper tick removal increases the chance of the tick transmitting infection.

    • Avoid crushing or squishing the tick's body.
    • Never use petroleum jelly, mineral oil, matches, nail polish, or other products to remove a tick.

    Removal methods such as these could actually backfire, causing the tick to excrete or regurgitate out bacteria

  1. Tick Infested Skin, Hair, and Clothes

    • Showering and a vigorous shampoo may help dislodge any crawling ticks. (According to ALDF, this is only somewhat effective).
    • Simply washing clothes will not kill ticks. Tick infested clothing should be run through a clothes dryer at high temperature for 30 minutes or more. Drying clothes may also kill any unseen ticks left on your clothing.
  2. Applying Pesticides (Acaricides) to Control Ticks

    A pesticide designed to kill ticks called an "acaricide" can be very effective in reducing tick populations around your home. If properly timed, a single application at the end of May or beginning of June (and optionally in September to control adult ticks) can reduce tick populations from 68% to 100%.

  1. Check With Your Local Health Officials

    The EPA and your state determine the availability of pesticides. Check with local health officials about the best time to apply acaricide in your area, as well as any rules and regulations related to pesticide application on residential properties. Or contact a professional pesticide company to apply pesticides at your home.

  2. Create a Tick-Safe Zone Around Your Home

    Use landscaping techniques to create a tick-safe zone around your home, garden, or yard.

    Ticks that transmit Lyme disease thrive in humid wooded areas. They die quickly in sunny and dry environments. According to ALDF, deer ticks cannot jump or fly, and do not drop from above onto a passing animal. Potential hosts (which include all wild birds and mammals, domestic animals, and humans) acquire ticks only by direct contact with them.

  3. Landscaping Tips

    Following these landscaping tips can help reduce tick populations:

    • Remove leaf litter and clear out brush and grass around homes and at the edges of lawns.
    • Place wood chips or gravel between lawns and wooded areas to restrict tick migration to recreational areas.
    • Mow the lawn and clear brush and leaf litter frequently.
    • Keep the ground under bird feeders clean.
    • Stack wood neatly and in dry areas.
    • Keep playground equipment, decks, and patios away from yard edges and trees.
  4. Discourage Deer

    Ticks that transmit Lyme disease can be found on deer. There are several actions you can take that may help reduce deer populations around your home.

    • Do not feed deer on your property. It may be necessary to remove bird feeders and clean up spilled birdseed.
    • Construct physical barriers (deer fencing) to discourage deer from entering your yard.
    • Help control deer with "deer-resistant" or deer-proof plants
  5. New Tools for Tick Control

    According to CDC, bait boxes that treat wild rodents with acaricide (an insecticide that kills ticks) are now available for home use. Properly used, these devices have been shown to reduce ticks around homes by more than 50%. The unit does not harm the rodents. The treatment is similar to products used to control fleas and ticks on pets. Bait boxes are now available from licensed pest control companies in many states.

  6. Other Methods for Controlling Ticks

    According to CDC, other methods for controlling ticks currently under evaluation include:

    • vegetation and habitat modifications.
    • devices for applying topical acaricides to deer.
    • fungal agents for biological control.
    • natural extracts that safely repel ticks.
  7. The Lyme Disease Vaccine

    In December 1998, the FDA approved a vaccine against Lyme disease, LYMErix, which was produced by SmithKline Beecham. In February 2002, the maker of LYMErix announced that production of the controversial vaccine was being stopped, citing an insufficient consumer demand. CDC reports the protection provided by this vaccine does diminish over time. Therefore, if you received this Lyme disease vaccine before 2002, you are probably no longer protected against Lyme disease.


  1. If a tick is attached to your skin for less than 24 hours, your chance of getting Lyme disease is extremely small. But just to be safe, monitor your health closely after a tick bite and be alert for any signs and symptoms of tick-borne illness. According to ALDF, monitor the site of the bite for the appearance of a rash (looks like a "bull's eye") beginning 3 to 30 days after the bite. If a rash or other early symptoms develop, see a physician immediately.
  2. Ask your doctor or health care provider if taking antibiotics after a tick bite is right for you. Although this is not routinely recommended, it may be beneficial for some persons in areas where Lyme disease is common. Health care providers must determine whether the advantages of prescribing antibiotics after tick bite outweigh the disadvantages.
  3. If you answer "yes" to the following questions, discuss the possibilities of taking antibiotics with your doctor or healthcare provider.
    • Were you in an area where Lyme disease is common when you acquired the tick bite?
    • Was the tick attached for at least one full day?
    • Has it been less than three days since you removed the tick or since it fell off of you?


American Lyme Disease Foundation