It’s the Season for Ticks: How You Can Protect Yourself

Some ticks carry Lyme disease, which can be serious if left untreated

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) is warning of an onslaught of ticks — and possibly a spike in Lyme disease — this summer.

Advertising Policy

Cleveland Clinic is a non-profit academic medical center. Advertising on our site helps support our mission. We do not endorse non-Cleveland Clinic products or services. Policy

From May through July, people will get more tick bites and tick-borne diseases than any other time of year in the United States, the CDC says.

Deer ticks carry Lyme disease, a bacterial infection that can cause joint, cardiac or neurological damage if not treated in time. Granted, not every tick carries Lyme disease, and some carry other pathogens, but it’s a good idea to take precautions against ticks and seek medical attention if you’ve been bitten.

Where the ticks are

Outdoor areas with woods, bushes, high grass, or leaf litter are likely to have more ticks. You should check for ticks as soon as you come indoors, recommends Alan Taege, MD, an infectious disease expert at Cleveland Clinic.

“If you do this within a short time of having been outdoors you may find them, and then remove them, and no harm is done because it usually on average takes several hours before ticks can cause illness,” Dr. Taege says.

Ticks will bite anywhere on the body, but they typically prefer secluded areas like the hair, or under the arms, Dr. Taege says.

Advertising Policy

The smallest ticks are brownish and about the size of two pinheads, he says. So look closely and carefully when inspecting and check from head to toe. It’s a good idea to have a helper go over your scalp, he says.

Tips against ticks

Taking steps to protect yourself and your family from getting a tick bite is the best defense against Lyme disease and other tickborne infections, the CDC says. The CDC offers these tips:

  • Avoid areas with high grass and leaf litter and walk in the center of trails when hiking.
  • Use repellent that contains 20 percent or more DEET, picaridin, or IR3535 on exposed skin for protection that lasts several hours.
  • Use products that contain permethrin to treat clothing and gear, such as boots, pants, socks and tents or look for clothing pre-treated with permethrin.
  • Treat your dogs. Dogs are very susceptible to tick bites and to some tick-borne diseases. They may also bring ticks into your home. Tick collars, sprays, shampoos, or monthly “top spot” medications offer protection.
  • Bathe or shower as soon as possible after coming indoors to wash off and more easily find crawling ticks before they bite you.
  • Conduct a full-body tick check using a hand-held or full-length mirror to view all parts of your body upon returning from tick-infested areas. Parents should help children check thoroughly for ticks. Remove any ticks right away.
  • Tumble dry clothes in a dryer on high heat for 10 minutes to kill ticks on dry clothing after you come indoors. If the clothes are damp, additional time may be needed.

How to safely remove a tick

When a tick latches on to your body, the bug implants its tiny needle nose into your skin to feed on your blood. While it feeds, bacteria from the tick’s body is regurgitated into your system, causing infection.

If you find a tick on your body, it will likely be attached firmly, Dr. Taege says. So it’s best to get a pair of fine-nose tweezers to remove it. It’s not advised to use heat or a flame from a match or lighter, to pull the tick out. The same goes for applying substances like petroleum jelly, rubbing alcohol or hand sanitizer to the tick.

Instead, use slow, steady pressure to slowly extract the insect. Dab the area with alcohol afterward to disinfect it.

Advertising Policy

“Get around the head of the tick and try to pluck it off, rather than grabbing the body and squeezing because if you grab the body and squeeze you’ll just have a greater chance of forcing more bacteria into your system,” Dr. Taege says.

In addition, if you find a tick on your body, you need to be on the lookout for symptoms of illness — low grade fever, fatigue and a large red rash that looks like a bulls-eye.

If you develop these symptoms, it’s important to contact a medical provider, Dr. Taege says.

Advertising Policy