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Ticks are pesky little bloodsuckers that can attach themselves to your body when you least expect it, especially when you’re out hiking, camping, or exploring the great outdoors. These tiny arachnids may seem harmless, but they can transmit dangerous diseases like Lyme disease and Rocky Mountain spotted fever. If you find a tick on your body, it’s important to remove it as soon as possible to reduce the risk of infection. But how to remove a tick is not as easy as it sounds. In this guide, we’ll walk you through the steps you need to take to safely and effectively remove a tick from your body.
It’s a Tick that Ticked Me Off
Do you know what really ticks the Geez off? Above all, having a bad day is just the beginning. What started out as a beautiful hiking day turned ugly at the end. But, maybe I’m digressing a little. So, let me fill in the backstory on how I ended up having to remove a tick head safely from my body.
One of my favorite places to hike is Garfield Grove in Sequoia National Park, California. Giant Sequoia redwoods in this grove are virtually untouched by human visitation, as a five-mile hike with 3,500 feet of vertical elevation gain is required to reach the grove. For instance, the hike can be done as a day hike but it is much more rewarding to backpack into the area and stay a night or two to absorb the beauty of the area.
We scheduled a two-day backpacking trip for 7 of us, having reserved wilderness permits a couple of months prior. Above all, the day started perfectly.
We had lunch at our favorite restaurant, the Riverview Café in Three Rivers, CA. It is very popular with the locals and you often have to wait an hour or more to be served. AND their pizza is to die for! So, you need to try it if you are in that neck of the woods.
On the Trail
After a leisurely lunch, we continued on to the trailhead and were on the trail by 3:00 in the afternoon. The Geez has hiked this trail multiple times but this time it kicked my butt! I have to chalk it up to the heat as I was drenched in sweat from head to toe. John, who is three years older than me, had to turn around less than a third of the way to our campsite as he couldn’t make it any further. Above all, we learned a valuable lesson on this trip. Never start a backpacking trip at lower elevations in the heat of the afternoon.
The rest of the trip was pretty much uneventful. Good food, a beautiful campsite and trails, and great company. We had planned to day hike to Hockett Lake on Saturday but only made it about halfway because of the snow. This winter California received an abundance of snow and the upper elevations are still pretty much snow-covered above 9,000 feet. However, our hiking group is never deterred by changes in plans. Hiking is more about the journey than the destination. As the Geez likes to say, “We go with the flow”.
The Trek Out
The last person crawled out of their tent Sunday morning at 7 am. Most of us had been awake since before 6:00 due to the racket made by the birds in the area.
The noise started just after 4 am and never let up. After that, I finally got up at sunrise and started packing up for the trek out. But, little did I know I was going to be carrying a blood-sucking creature with me!
The one thing I love about this hike is that it is all downhill on the way back. The five miles took less than two hours to hike back to our vehicles at the trailhead.
After throwing packs in the back of the pickup and everyone changing out of hiking boots back to sandals and tennis shoes we were ready to leave. In hindsight, I should have known something was wrong as I brushed a tick off my hiking shorts before getting in to drive home.
Is that a Tick?
As Paul Harvey used to say, “And now for the rest of the story”. When I got home I showered, changed clothes, and enjoyed the rest of the day.
I had no idea anything was wrong until the next morning when I looked in the mirror and saw one of my love handles all red and swollen with a big black dot in the center.
No, it couldn’t be, could it? Yes, it was. That stupid tick had been feeding on me all night and was three or four times the size of the one I brushed off my hiking shorts.
Why, oh why hadn’t I checked for ticks when I showered yesterday? Above all, this is the first time in this old geezer’s life that I’ve been bitten by a tick. Now, what do I do to remove a tick?
How To Remove a Tick
It was too late this time, so I had to extract the critter from my waist. The method I used to remove a tick works best to remove any of the many varieties of ticks. But, I’ll tell you that how to remove a tick was not on my reading list over coffee the next morning.
Avoid Having to Take Out a Tick
By the way, one thing is certain. There are mosquitoes and ticks everywhere in the United States, so you have to be proactive in keeping the critters from biting you. So, a repellent should be the first line of defense. Since it was still cold outside at Garfield Grove and the mosquitoes hadn’t started bothering us, I didn’t use my repellent on the hike out. But, because I can’t stand DEET, I usually use a Picaridin based insect repellent. 20% Picaridin is just as effective at keeping bugs away.
A Natural Tick Repellant
However, this Geezer likes natural products even better. I found a natural way to keep ticks from crawling up your pant legs and having to learn how to remove a tick in a hurry. Spray your shoes, socks, and pants with 1 part tea tree oil to 2 parts water before trekking out in the woods. I’ll see if pretreating my clothing works next time and keep you posted on the outcome.
How to Remove a Tick – Even Steady Pressure is Best
So, the trick to removing a tick properly is to pinch it by the head with pointed tweezers, or as close to the head as possible. It is best not to use your bare hands, wear a glove or use a piece of tissue paper.
Get one point of the tweezers underneath the head of the tick next to your skin as close as you can with the other point on top of the head. After that, once you have the tick squeezed by the head, pull it out with steady even pressure. Above all, don’t twist, yank or jerk the tick out. You do not want the head to break off and have the fluids remain in your body.
A tick removal tool like this has an illustrated instruction card with it. This tool can be used effectively if the tick is on a flat surface of your body and you have enough room to use it. I found that pulling out my tick was easy with a pair of pointed tweezers. I have the key tick remover but did not find it easy to use and was hesitant in trying to extract the tick.
Dental floss can also be used to remove a tick, but it is not nearly as reliable as a set of tweezers or a tick removal tool. If using floss, loop around the head of the tick. After tightening the loop around the tick’s head, pull upward steadily away from the skin.
Can I Remove a Tick With Dish Soap
Yes, you can! No special tools are needed. Simply take a cotton swab and put any kind of liquid dish soap on the tip. Apply in circles over the tick for about 1 minute. Then, use a dry swab to wipe away the soap. The tick will be found on the swab with his head intact. An article on this method can be found here.
Clean up After You Extract a Tick Head
Once you pull out the tick, clean the area with isopropyl alcohol, iodine, or just soap and water. In addition, wash your hands. After that, save the tick in a jar of isopropyl alcohol or freeze it for later in case it needs to be properly identified and/or tested for the disease. These are the recommended methods by the CDC.
Most importantly, there is an old wives’ tale that says to burn off the tick or put nail polish on it. DO NOT do this!
Diseases That Ticks Carry
The most common tick-borne disease is Lyme disease. It is transmitted by the bite of an infected black-legged tick, commonly known as a deer tick. Most importantly, it is important for your doctor to know whether or not you’ve been bitten by a deer tick because these are the ticks that carry Lyme disease.
A small, red bump, similar to the bump of a mosquito bite, often appears at the site of a tick bite or where the tick was extracted and goes away after a few days. In other words, this is normal and doesn’t indicate Lyme disease.
Things to Watch After a Tick Bite
However, if infected you need to watch for the following signs and symptoms. They can occur within a month after you’ve been infected:
- Rash. From three to 30 days after an infected tick bite, an expanding red area might appear that sometimes clears in the center, forming a bulls-eye pattern. The rash expands slowly over several days and can spread to 12 inches across. It’s typically not itchy or painful but might feel warm to the touch.
Fever/chills: With all tick-borne diseases, patients can experience a fever at varying degrees and times of onset.
Aches and pains: Tick-borne disease symptoms include headache, fatigue, muscle aches, and joint pain. in addition, the severity and length of time for symptoms to appear can depend on the type of disease transmitted and the patient’s personal tolerance level.
The signature bullseye rash (erythema migrans) is one of the hallmarks of Lyme disease. Not everyone with Lyme disease develops this rash but some people develop it at more than one place on their bodies.
Other Symptoms from Tick Bites
Other symptoms: Fever, chills, fatigue, body aches, headache, neck stiffness, and swollen lymph nodes can accompany the rash.
Most importantly, very few tick bites lead to Lyme disease. But, the longer the tick remains attached to your skin, the greater your risk of getting the disease.
Lyme infection is unlikely if the tick is attached for less than 36 to 48 hours. However, if you were bitten by a tick and have signs and symptoms of Lyme disease, contact your doctor right away. Treatment for Lyme disease is more effective if begun early.
Other Diseases You Can Get From A Tick Bite
Similarly, there are other tick-related diseases that occur less frequently.
It is important to remember that if a tick bites you, signs of an illness can take up to several weeks to appear.
Several tick-borne diseases have similar signs and symptoms, resulting in mild symptoms that are treatable at home.
Some infections are severe and require hospitalization. So, make sure and see a doctor if you have been bitten by a tick and experience any of these common symptoms:
Check Your Dog For Ticks
I did end up going to see my doctor a week later. The black dot in the middle was concerning to me. Doc said I was asymptomatic, but prescribed a precautionary antibiotic. After that, the black dot ended up being a scab. So, when in doubt – seek medical attention.
New Update On My Tick
Another month went by and I still had swelling and the black spot was now hard to the touch. I went to see the Doc again. He gave me another round of drugs…come to find out the head of the tick was working itself out.
Definitely see your doctor if you have any concerns. A tick bite is nothing to fool around with!
In addition, always hike with safety in mind and check for ticks that try to hitch a ride on your body. Don’t forget if you hike with your dog to check them also. Removing ticks from animals is the same procedure as humans.
The CDC has a great graphic of what to do after a tick bite. You can download it here.
My wife did a good job at her first tick removal. Even though it grossed her out! She said it was like an alien coming out of my body. Because you love a hiker, you remove creepy things from their body that they bring back from the woods.
My “takeaway” from all this is you can bet I will check for ticks from now on when I get home from hiking.
Be safe my hiking friends!
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