Tick Bites: What Do They Look Like, & How Do You Treat Them?

Tick Season Is Upon Us! How To Identify And Treat Tick Bites

April 29, 2021 Updated June 24, 2021

Tick Bite
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For many people, summertime means barbeques, hikes, and lots of time spent enjoying the great outdoors. But for ticks, the summer season is the prime time for feeding on humans and animals alike — these parasitic arachnids are most active between the months of April and September. As a result, tick bites can be a common side effect of all the fun warm weather brings.

Ticks are found all across the United States, and the blood-suckers love to lurk in trees, high grass, shrubbery, and even piles of leaves. Unfortunately, it’s hard to spot a tick until one has already attached itself to you or the family pet. While there are different types of ticks, you can generally identify the arthropod by its shape: Ticks are part of the arachnid family (like spiders and scorpions), and as a result, they have eight legs. In terms of color and size, all ticks are relatively small and are predominantly black or reddish.

Once a tick latches on to you, it can stay attached for up to 10 days as it gorges on your blood, as reported by the University of Rhode Island’s Tick Encounter. At that point, the creatures generally detach on their own. You don’t want to wait for that to happen, though. Some bites can indeed be completely harmless, but ticks may carry dangerous diseases, including Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever and Lyme disease. For this reason, any tick bite warrants a trip to see your doctor just in case. However, there are immediate actions you can take at home to prevent complications down the line.

Ultimately, the best possible treatment is not to get bitten at all. You can avoid tick bites by steering clear of tall grass, walking down the center of trails on hikes, wearing long sleeves and pants tucked into your socks outdoors, showering after coming in from the outside, and putting on a tick repellent that contains DEET. Still, even if you’re cautious, tick bites can happen, and it’s always good to prepare accordingly. Read on to discover what tick bites look like, how to treat tick bites, and what you should do after removing the creepy-crawly from your skin.

What do tick bites look like?

Unlike other insect bites, tick bites usually get discovered when the bug is still attached. Remember, ticks don’t simply bite you and then drop off. Instead, they stay attached to feed on you (*shudder*). Additionally, ticks can move between hosts, so if a tick has bitten your dog, it could potentially leave her and latch on to you, and vice versa.

It also merits mentioning that reactions to tick bites vary. Some people may not notice any signs, while for others, the site of a tick bite may be itchy or swollen. If you’re allergic to these arachnids, you could even experience blistering or difficulty breathing — all signs that you should seek medical attention immediately. But in most cases, where there’s a tick bite, there will also be a tick, leaving little doubt about what has bitten you.

To increase your chances of discovering a tick bite early, check your body after you’ve been outside for the day. Ticks naturally gravitate toward warm, moist areas of the body. So, you may find them in your hair, between your legs, behind your knees, or under your arm.

How do you treat tick bites?

There are lots of old wives’ tales surrounding tick bite treatment — and you should disregard all of them. According to the Mayo Clinic, you should never use a hot match, nail polish, or petroleum jelly to attempt to dislodge ticks. Instead, follow the steps outlined below, and then put in a call to your doctor:

  • Using tweezers, grasp the tick as close as possible to where it has attached itself to your skin.
  • Gently pull upwards to detach the tick while avoiding twisting the bug or applying excess pressure.
  • Once you remove the tick, use the tweezers to carefully drop it into a container. Put the container in your freezer to show your doctor if they need to know the type of tick that bit you.
  • Clean the site of the bite with soap and water.
  • After you’ve detached the tick and stored it for identification, wash your hands thoroughly.
  • Call your doctor. Since ticks can transmit diseases, it’s always best to visit your healthcare provider after a bite.

Should I go to the doctor if bitten by a tick?

Outside of the immediate removal of the tick, you’re probably wondering what to do after a tick bite. Once you’ve removed the tick, yes, squeezing in a visit with your doctor is a solid idea. You’ll want to be on the lookout for any symptoms that could indicate a more severe condition, too. Most tick bites don’t lead to complications, but you should be aware that symptoms of tickborne diseases can appear in the days and even weeks following a bite. Keep an eye out for any of the following:

  • A rash near the bite site. If it’s in a bull’s eye shape, that could indicate Lyme disease.
  • Headaches or nausea.
  • Flu-like symptoms, including chills, fever, and muscle pain.
  • Excessive redness or discharge coming from the site of the bite. This could mean you have an infection.

While most tick bites are more of a nuisance than anything else, it’s always best to treat a bite promptly to avoid complications down the line and to keep you from missing out on too much summer fun.

Is Lyme disease curable?

If a tick has bitten you, you don’t need to panic yet. That’s because, per the Mayo Clinic, only a minority of tick bites lead to Lyme disease. The disease is caused by the bacterium Borrelia burgdorferi. Lyme disease can be cured within two to four weeks if the patient is on antibiotics. However, the pain, exhaustion, and mental fog it causes can last for about six months. 

What happens if a tick is not removed?

If you recently went on a trip into the woods, it’s important to check your body for ticks. But, if a sneaky tick latches onto you undetected, it won’t stay on for long. The tick will fall off on its own once it is full. This can take up to two weeks or a couple of days. And a small red mark will be left behind.