How to Remove a Tick
A popular Facebook video advises dousing the parasites in peppermint oil, causing them to float up and away from the skin. “Death to ticks!!” the caption exclaims. More than a million viewers have since shared the post, recommending it to their friends and family.
The only problem? The “tip” directly contradicts experts’ advice. “Anything that delays removing a tick is a bad idea,” says Robert B. Kimsey, Ph.D, an entomologist with the University of California, Davis specializing in ticks.
The Centers for Disease Control also discourages “folklore remedies” like nail polish, petroleum jelly, and heat that lift the tick away from the skin. “Your goal is to remove the tick as quickly as possible – not wait for it to detach,” the CDC says.
How to Remove a Tick
Instead of wasting your essential oils, here’s what to do, according to the CDC:
- Using a pair of fine-tipped tweezers, grasp the tick as close to the skin as possible.
- Pull straight up with steady, even pressure.
- Thoroughly clean the bite (and your hands) with rubbing alcohol or soap and water.
What happens if you don’t remove a tick?
Some species of ticks in certain parts of the country can transmit illnesses like Lyme disease, Rocky Mountain spotted fever (RMSF), and southern-tick associated rash illness (STARI), the CDC states. While not every tick carries pathogens, waiting too long to remove a tick can increase the likelihood of transmission.
“In general, it takes anywhere from a day and half to two days or so for a tick that’s attached to you to transmit any pathogens it may have,” Dr. Kimsey says. “Once that tick attaches to you, that sets a timer and you’re best off getting it off just as quickly as you can.”
How do you get a tick to let go?
The short answer: You can’t. “Ticks, as an initial process of feeding on you, actually glue themselves in place,” Dr. Kimsey explains. “The hard ticks that people are most concerned about can’t back out of their own volition.”
So not only is it a bad idea to wait to grab peppermint oil, dish soap, vaseline, or whatever fix the internet is currently prescribing for tick bites, but these home “remedies” may also not work the way you believe they do.
What happens if you squeeze a tick?
Not as much as you may think. Those worries about whether squeezing a tick may cause it to regurgitate more pathogens into the bite may be misplaced. A while ago, Dr. Kimsey attempted a series of informal experiments to test whether this would be the case. He and research fellow at the Harvard School of Public Health removed engorged ticks from their hosts and prodded them with pencil erasers under a microscope.
“They didn’t regurgitate, they didn’t explode, and they didn’t salviate any more then they were going to anyway,” he said.
What do you do if you pull out a tick and the head stays in?
What you may think of the tick “head” is actually not the head at all. “If anything gets left behind in the skin, it’s the mouthparts, essentially tick jaws,” Dr. Kimsey says.
The CDC recommends attempting to remove any mouthparts left behind with clean tweezers, but if they don’t come out easily, just leave it alone and let the skin heal. That’s because they’re not infectious in the same way as an actual tick.
“There are no pathogens associated with tick jaws,” Dr. Kimsey says. “Your skin will reject the mouthparts in the same way they will reject a splinter.”
What should you do after getting rid of a tick?
To get rid of the pests, put them in a sealed bag or container, or just flush them down the toilet, the CDC says. Whether you decided to save a tick and get it identified or tested should depend on where you live.
“There’s a lot of data out there now about where the prevalence of infected ticks is relatively high and where it’s relatively low and what kinds of ticks actually carry pathogens and which ones don’t seem to,” Dr. Kimsey says. “Make that kind of decision based on knowledge, not panic.”
Talk to your healthcare provider if you have any questions about tickborne illness in your area, and of course see your doctor right away if you develop a rash or fever within several weeks of removing a tick, the CDC advises.
The redness and swelling you may see a few hours after a tick bite isn’t necessarily a cause for concern, though. It shows that your body is recognizing the foreign proteins in the tick saliva and using an immune response to flush them out, just like with a mosquito bite. “In the reality, that initial reaction to the tick saliva occurs long before any pathogens get transmitted,” Dr. Kimsey says. “It’s just your immune system doing its job.”