For such tiny insects, ticks certainly instill big fears in both kids and adults — and for good reason: Some carry Lyme disease, the most commonly reported insect-borne illness in the United States.
Making matters worse, many parents are unsure of the best way to remove a tick once spotted on the skin. “Sometimes, parents bring kids in with ticks still clinging to their skin and ask us to remove them,” says Naline Lai, MD, a pediatrician at CHOP Primary Care, Newtown, PA, and co-founder, with Julie Kardos, MD, of the Two Peds in a Pod blog.
But tick removal is safe and simple to do on your own and at home. To save you the trip to your pediatrician, here are Dr. Lai and Dr. Kardos’ dos and don’ts for plucking the bugs off:
- DON’T: Never try to burn off a tick with a match. And avoid other suffocation techniques like covering the tick with petroleum jelly or nail polish. These techniques aren’t very effective and they just allow the tick to stay on for a longer period of time. They can also cause the tick to become slippery and difficult to grasp.
- DO: Use tweezers to pull out a tick. Take a deep breath and pretend the tick is just a speck of lint — not an ugly critter with a bloated stomach and writhing legs.
- DO: Firmly clasp the head of the tick with your tweezers. If the tick is tiny, you will end up grabbing the entire body.
- DO: Pull the tick straight up and off. It can help to press down on the skin on either side of the tick so the skin doesn’t pull up when you pull the tick off. This lessens any pinching your child may feel.
- DON’T: Once the tick’s head is removed, don’t go digging around for any pieces left behind. Just like a tiny splinter, your skin will naturally expel it. Soaking the area in warm water can help that process along.
- DO: Once you’ve removed the tick, wash the skin as you would any cut to prevent a skin infection. A small, minimally tender, pimple-like bump is a common reaction and it may be present for a few days after you remove a tick. This is just an irritation response of the skin and nothing to be concerned about.
- DO: Dispose of the tick by flushing it down the toilet or submersing it in alcohol. Never crush a tick with your fingers.
- DO: Keep an eye out for the rash of Lyme disease, especially if the tick was a blacklegged tick. Also known as deer ticks, these ticks are about the size of a poppy or sesame seed. A Lyme disease rash appears as a flat, pink, round patch about a week after a tick bite. The patch may clear in the center and usually grows to more than two and a half inches across. If you do notice a rash, be sure to talk to your pediatrician about your child’s recent tick bite, including when it occurred and where it’s likely to have happened.