Tick Bite Treatment: A Step-by-Step Care Guide

A man scratching his wrist after a painful tick bite.

Ticks are nasty, blood-sucking freeloaders that can turn a delightful day outdoors into a skin-crawling horror show. But don’t get spooked! This step-by-step guide details what to do after a tick bite, walking you through tick bite treatment steps so you can reclaim your skin and your sanity.

The information provided on this site is based on my personal experience living with alpha-gal syndrome. I consistently cite and link to expert sources, but nothing published on this site should be perceived as medical advice.

Alpha-gal sensitivities vary by person. You should understand your dietary restrictions, making any adjustments needed, and directing any questions to your physician.

Ticks are uninvited hitchhikers who don’t even offer to pay for gas. They just latch on and start siphoning your blood. But what do you do when you find one of these little vampires has made a meal out of you? Don’t panic, because I’ve got you covered. From proper tick removal to symptom monitoring, this step-by-step guide will help you navigate the aftermath of a tick bite so you can get back to enjoying the great outdoors—minus the disgusting little parasites.

What to do if you are bitten by a tick.


In This Article

A tick biting a person's skin.
Photo Credit: YayImages.

What Body Parts Are Most Likely to Have a Tick Bite?

Think of ticks as the world’s worst estheticians. They love the soft, delicate areas of your body—scalp, neck, behind the ears, and along the hairline. But they’re not picky. Given the chance, they’ll also go for your arms, legs, and even your face. Basically, if it’s skin, it’s fair game for a tick feast.

Ticks prefer warm and moist areas, making the armpits, groin, and the back of the knees common attachment sites. They also commonly bite around the waistline, in the folds of the skin, and in areas that tight clothing covers, like the waistband or bra line.

A graphic providing step-by-step instructions on how to remove a tick.

What to Do if You Spot a Tick on Your Body

Ticks like to lurk in a variety of outdoor environments including woodlands, grassy areas, and even your backyard. If you spot a tick on yourself, a family member, or a pet, it is crucial to take immediate action, because these critters aren’t just annoying. They are tiny, eight-legged biohazards capable of spreading alpha-gal syndrome, Lyme disease, Rocky Mountain spotted fever, and other serious tick-borne diseases.

These are the steps you should follow if you spot a tick attached to your body:

Tick Held by Tweezers
Photo Credit: YayImages

1. Remove the Tick

When treating tick bites, time is of the essence. So think of tick removal as a high-stakes game of Operation using real tweezers and your skin.

How do you remove a tick? Grab a pair of fine-tipped tweezers to grasp the tick at its head or mouth firmly. It’s essential to get as close to the skin’s surface as possible. With the tweezers in place, pull upward with steady pressure and gentle motion. Avoid twisting or jerking the tick. Otherwise, the mouthparts may break off leaving you with a tick head souvenir lodged in your skin.

Do NOT use heat — like a hot match or smoldering cigarette — petroleum jelly, kerosene, or other methods to detach the tick. These unproven “home remedy” tick removal methods may cause the tick to behave like a syringe and inject its bodily fluids into your bloodstream.

A man pulling an antiseptic wipe out of a container.
Photo Credit: YayImages.

2. Cleanse and Protect the Area

After you’ve evicted your tiny tenant, it’s time for some housekeeping to clean and protect the area to reduce the chance of infection. 

  • Wash your hands: Before attending to the bite, thoroughly wash your hands with warm water and soap as if you’re prepping for surgery. This step helps eliminate any bacteria on your hands and reduces the risk of infection.
  • Clean the bite area: Gently clean the bite site using warm water and a mild soap. This helps remove any dirt or debris accumulated during the tick’s attachment. Be sure to cleanse the area around the bite as well.
  • Apply alcohol to the bite wound: After cleaning the bite area, finish it off with a splash of alcohol. While you may want a shot of something else to calm your nerves, wiping a rubbing alcohol pad over the spot acts as an antiseptic and further disinfects the area, reducing the risk of infection.

Sage Advice: Before you return the tweezers to your first aid kit or medicine chest, disinfect them with rubbing alcohol.

Person Looking at Tick on Hand in Magnifying Glass
Photo Credit: Shutterstock

3. Make a Positive ID

If your first instinct is to flush that tick down the toilet, hold up! As much as you’d like to send it to a watery grave, it’s smarter to first drown the tick in rubbing alcohol and then play detective. Why? Because knowing your enemy can help you and your healthcare provider determine what you’re up against. Different ticks carry different diseases, so a positive ID can be more helpful than you might think.

To ensure the tick is dead and can’t harm anyone else, submerge it in a capful of rubbing alcohol. Once the little assailant has met its alcohol-induced end, head over to the TickEncounter’s Field Guide to Ticks. It’s like a Most Wanted poster, but for ticks. You can also use the site’s TickSpotters tool to get a free tick identification from a tick expert along with recommendations that will help you avoid future bites from these eight-legged nuisances and reduce your chances of contracting a tick-borne disease.

Sage Advice: If you start experiencing symptoms of a tick-borne illness, your doctor may want to see it. So I also recommend keeping the the dead tick in a small plastic bag or container with a lid marked with the date it was pulled from your body. Think of it as evidence in the trial against ticks.

A man with a red rash on his arm.
Photo Credit: Canva.

4. Watch for Symptoms

Tick bites are the gifts that keep on giving, and not in a good way. Watch for any signs of infection or the onset of a tick-borne disease. So, what are the symptoms that a tick bite might cause? Tick bites can cause a range of symptoms, depending on the individual and the type of tick involved. Common symptoms of a tick bite include chills, headaches, tiredness, itchiness or irritation, skin rash, and flu-like symptoms.

Some tick-borne illnesses have distinct rashes associated with them. For example, Rocky Mountain spotted fever may cause a rash with small red or purple spots called petechiae. Lyme disease often presents with a characteristic rash known as erythema migrans, which looks like a bull’s-eye or target-shaped rash.

Other possible symptoms of tick bites include small hard bumps or sores at the bite site, redness or swelling, and allergic reactions. However, it’s important to note that not all tick bites cause symptoms. Sometimes, a tick bite may go unnoticed or cause only mild irritation.

If you’ve contracted alpha-gal syndrome, you may experience:

  • Hives or an itchy rash
  • Nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, or other gastrointestinal issues
  • Shortness of breath or difficulty breathing
  • Swelling in your lips, throat, tongue, or eyelids,

especially a few hours after consuming beef, pork, bacon, or other mammalian products.

When to Worry About a Tick Bite

You should seek immediate medical care if you experience a severe allergic reaction after a tick bite. Symptoms of a severe allergic reaction may include difficulty breathing, swelling of the face or throat, dizziness, or hives. 

Additionally, if you notice any signs of infection at the tick bite site, it’s essential to consult a healthcare provider. Watch for increased redness, swelling, warmth, or drainage from the area. Other symptoms of potential infection include fever, chills, and gastrointestinal discomfort.

"Most tick bites don't need a doctor's treatment, unless the tick is engorged, indicating it has been attached for more than 36 hours. In this case, if you live an area in which Lyme disease is prevalent you should contact your physician to determine whether or not antibiotic treatment is needed."

Persistent or worsening symptoms should also prompt a call to your primary care doctor. If you develop a new rash unrelated to the tick bite, experience joint pain, or have other tick-borne illness symptoms, it’s best to seek medical attention. Your physician can evaluate your symptoms and determine the appropriate next steps, including further testing or treatment. 

Sage Advice: If you believe you have alpha-gal syndrome, request a test. A blood draw will easily confirm (or deny) your suspicions. Be sure your physician orders the proper test – and not the similarly named tests for a different condition, Fabry disease – by sharing these lab codes:

Woman Spraying Insect Repellent

How Can I Protect Myself and My Family From Ticks?

Protecting yourself and your family from ticks is essential to prevent tick bites and minimize the risk of tick-borne diseases. Here are some effective measures you can take:

Wear Protective Clothing

Wear long-sleeved, light-colored clothing with tightly woven fabric when going outdoors in tick-prone areas. Tuck your pants into your socks to prevent ticks from crawling up your legs.

Use Tick Repellent

Apply an EPA-approved insect repellent on exposed skin, clothing, and outdoor gear. Look for products that contain DEET or picaridin. Follow the instructions carefully for safe and effective use.

Choose Your Path Wisely

When enjoying the great outdoors, stay in the center of trails to avoid picking up ticks from tall grassy areas, brush, and other tick habitats nearby.

Conduct a Tick Check

After spending time outdoors, thoroughly check your pets, clothing, and body for ticks. Pay close attention to areas like the scalp, armpits, groin, and behind the ears. Use a mirror or have someone else help with hard-to-see areas.

Related Article: How to Check for Ticks

Shower as Soon as Possible

Showering within two hours of coming indoors can help wash away any ticks crawling on your body. Use warm water and thoroughly clean your entire body, including your scalp.

Do You Have a Tick Bite Treatment Tip to Share?

Got a tick bite treatment tip that’s too good to keep to yourself? We want to hear it, so share your wisdom in the comments below. After all, we’re all in this tick-infested world together.

Thank you for sharing!

4 thoughts on “Tick Bite Treatment: A Step-by-Step Care Guide”

  1. Ticks are horrible! To this day, I wonder what the purpose is of the little pests. I use repellent like lotion in the summer. I am terrified of another bite.

  2. This article was a lifesaver! I had a tick bite recently and was panicking. The clear instructions on safe tick removal and aftercare calmed me down. Especially learning what NOT to do was helpful, but I still go to the hospital to make sure everything is good, thanks for sharing this!

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