Nothing makes you say ewww more than removing an embedded tick. You may be able to easily remove a tick from a pet but may have a hard time doing so on a family member or yourself. Others of us can remove a tick while watching a sports program on TV and keep up with the score at the same time. Which one of these descriptions fits you? Do you want revenge on the tick you found? Do you want to smash it or burn it after you’ve removed it? If so, hold off on the revenge until you know you’re safe. We’ve heard stories where people have become quite creative in torturing ticks. Although we don’t encourage any of the methods, we do understand the reaction.
Removing a tick takes patience and getting over the “Yuck” factor. Perhaps the idea of removing a bug that has burrowed under your skin is simply disgusting. Perhaps knowing it is more likely to infect you if you remove it incorrectly will put you over the top emotionally.
Whether you do it yourself or have someone do it for you, you need to know the steps for properly removing a tick. We live in the Northeast US, so when it comes to ticks we know they are endemic to our region and we’ll likely see them on us. Some carry the bacteria for Lyme Disease, others don’t. Because we can’t identify which ones carry Lyme and which ones don’t, we need to treat them all the same when it comes to removing them from our skin.
Here are the steps for safe tick removal.
Step 1 in removing a tick is to remember that if the tick hasn’t been on you for more than 24-36 hours, you aren’t likely to get Lyme Disease. Scientists know it generally takes that amount of time for the tick to transmit the bacteria to you once it is embedded in your skin.
If the tick is crawling and hasn’t embedded in your skin, you can simply put a piece of tape on it and double the tape over so it can’t escape. Once secure, you can dispose of it in a trash receptacle.
If the tick is embedded in your skin or that of your pets, you need to remove it.
Step 2 involves gathering sharp or pointed tweezers, along with cotton and rubbing alcohol or soap and water.
Step 3 is the removal stage. Grasp the tick with your pointed tweezers as close to the skin as possible. The side of the tweezers should be lying nearly flat on your skin. You can see an illustration on the CDC website. When you use the tweezers in this way, you are attempting to get a firm hold on all the tick’s mouthparts.
Obtaining a firm grasp on the mouth parts of the tick will help in preventing it from
regurgitating any infected secretions into your body. Using the tweezers in this way also has the greatest chance of removing all the parts of the tick’s mouth at one time. Any remaining mouthparts above the skin should be removed with clean tweezers. You don’t want to dig under the skin for any parts not removed on previous attempts. Any mouthparts that aren’t easily removed can be left and they will come out of the skin over time.
Step 4 is the cleanup stage.
First, place the tick in a sealable plastic bag with a moistened Q-tip. Saving the tick will allow it to be tested by your physician in case you begin experiencing Lyme Disease symptoms later. It’s common for symptoms to appear 7-30 days after a bite, so you may want to store the bag in your garage or somewhere out of the house where you can find it later.
Second, use the cotton and alcohol, iodine scrub or soap and water to clean the site of the bite.
More information on preventing tick bites and tick removal can be found in this Harvard Health Publication.
You may have heard of someone bitten by a tick who removed the tick by putting rubbing alcohol, Vaseline, nail polish, heat from a match, etc. on it, without using tweezers. None of these actions should be taken when removing a tick. Why? Ticks react to these methods in the same way we might if they were done to us. The difference is that the tick reacts by regurgitating the blood they took from us and squirting it back under our skin along with the disease bacteria. When the tick regurgitates, the tick’s blood meal and any Lyme bacteria are dumped into your blood.
The different methods of tick torture, such as nail polish, matches, etc. can be used safely once you have removed the tick and you’re certain you’re not going to have it tested. At that point, you can even choose creative methods of torture to punish your tick. We’ve heard stories of people putting their tick in a microwave (not recommended since when it pops guess where any bacteria goes?), putting them on the outdoor grill (again, a possible food issue later), soaking them in gasoline and other various means.
If the tick was not buried under your skin, you are not likely to be infected with Lyme Disease. We recommend that you still keep the tick for 30 days to be sure you weren’t infected. If you don’t, then the tick may get his or her revenge on you. Having the tick will help in your diagnosis and speed up any treatment.