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Tick and Mite Bites

By Robert A. Barish, MD, MBA, Thomas Arnold, MD

Ticks and mites are closely related organisms that are also closely related to spiders. Both ticks and mites may transmit disease to humans.


Ticks can carry many diseases. For example, deer ticks may carry the bacteria that cause Lyme disease or the protozoa that cause babesiosis. Other types of ticks may carry the bacteria that cause Rocky Mountain spotted fever or ehrlichiosis.

The bites of pajaroello ticks, which are present in Mexico and the southwestern United States, produce pus-filled blisters that break, leaving open sores that develop scabs.

Most tick bites do not transmit disease and are painless. However, they often cause a red bump and itching at the site of the bite and may cause allergic skin reactions in some people. Some mites burrow under the skin.

Deer Ticks

Tick paralysis

In North America, some tick species secrete a toxin in their saliva that causes tick paralysis. A person with tick paralysis feels weak and fatigued. Some people become restless, weak, and irritable. After a few days, a progressive paralysis develops, usually moving up from the legs. The muscles that control breathing also may become paralyzed.

Tick paralysis is cured rapidly by finding and removing the tick or ticks. If breathing is impaired, oxygen therapy or a mechanical ventilator may be needed to assist with breathing.


Mite infestations are common and are responsible for the intensely itchy rash caused by the bites of chiggers (mite larvae), for scabies, other itchy rashes, and a number of other disorders. The effects on the tissues around the bite vary in severity. In some Asian countries and Australia, chiggers may transmit scrub typhus.


  • For tick bites, removal of tick, application of antiseptic, and sometimes an antibiotic by mouth to prevent Lyme disease

  • For mite infestations, anti-itch medicines, sometimes antibiotics or application of permethrin or lindane

Tick bites

Tick bites can sometimes be prevented by taking precautions in areas where ticks are common (see Preventing Tick Bites).

Tick removal should be done as soon as possible. Removal is best accomplished by grasping the tick with curved tweezers as close to the skin as possible and pulling it directly out. The tick’s head, which may not come out with the body, should be removed, because it can cause prolonged inflammation. Most of the folk methods of removing a tick, such as applying alcohol, fingernail polish, or petroleum jelly or using a hot match, are ineffective and may cause skin damage or cause the tick to expel infected saliva into the bite site.

Did You Know...

  • The best way to remove a tick is with tweezers, directly pulling it off.

After the tick is removed, an antiseptic should be applied. If swelling and discoloration are present, an oral antihistamine may be helpful. If the tick appears to have been attached for an extended period (the tick is very swollen) or Lyme disease is prevalent in the area, doctors may give an antibiotic to help prevent Lyme disease.

Mite infestations

Corticosteroid creams or antihistamines taken by mouth are used to control itching. Antibiotics taken by mouth are given if mites have burrowed under the skin. Scabies is treated by applying a cream containing permethrin or a solution of lindane. A cream containing a corticosteroid is sometimes used for a few days to reduce itching. If permethrin or lindane is used, it is given before the corticosteroid.

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* This is the Consumer Version. *