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Quick Facts

Tick Bites


The Manual's Editorial Staff

Last full review/revision Jul 2021| Content last modified Jul 2021
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There are several different types of ticks in the United States. Tick bites themselves aren't serious. The main problem with tick bites is the spread of serious diseases:

Tick diseases tend to occur mainly in certain parts of the country. Even in those areas, not all ticks carry disease. Not every bite by a disease-carrying tick will make you sick.

Deer Ticks

Deer Ticks

What are the symptoms of a tick bite?

Sometimes you'll see the tick attached to your skin, where it's feeding on your blood. Ticks usually stay attached for a day or two if you don't remove them. The longer they are attached, the more they swell up with blood. After the tick falls off or you remove it, the bite is a small, red, itchy bump.

How will I know if the tick gave me an infection?

Actually, the biggest problem is when people get sick but don't know they were bitten by a tick. Then it can be hard for your doctor to know that you have an infection from a tick.

If you know a tick bit you, contact your doctor. What your doctor does depends on how common disease-carrying ticks are where you live. The doctor may just have you watch for signs of infection. Signs include:

  • Red area (sometimes a couple inches across) around the bite

  • Skin rash

  • Feeling sick in general (muscle aches, headache, fever, weakness)

If you don't have any rash or symptoms for a month, you likely don't have an infection. However, if you live where infections from ticks are common, the doctor may check you and give you a single dose of an antibiotic.

How do I treat a tick bite?

Things to do:

  • Remove the tick right away by grasping it with curved tweezers and pulling it out

  • Put an antiseptic ointment on the bite to prevent infection

  • If the bite is swollen or your skin around the bite changes color, take an antihistamine, such as diphenhydramine

Things not to do:

  • Don’t try to remove a tick by putting alcohol, fingernail polish, petroleum jelly, or a hot match on the tick—these don’t work well and can hurt your skin or make the tick bite worse

How can I prevent tick bites?

To prevent a tick bite when you're outdoors, especially in wooded areas:

  • Walk in the center of trails and paths to avoid brushing up against bushes and weeds

  • Avoid sitting on the ground, tree stumps, or stone walls

  • Wear long-sleeved shirts and long pants tucked into boots or socks

  • Wear light-colored clothing so ticks are easier to see

  • Use an insect repellent containing DEET on your skin and spray your clothes with an insect repellent containing permethrin

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