Ticks are small, parasitic bugs related to mites and spiders. At certain stages of their life cycle, ticks may bite humans. The bites of certain ticks may transmit diseases, such as Lyme disease. A person can help prevent tick bites by avoiding at-risk areas and wearing protective clothing.

Ticks are present across the United States but are most active in the warm summer months of April to September.

Depending on their stage of life, ticks have different preferences for their hosts. There are four main stages in a tick’s life cycle: egg, larva, nymph, and adult. Ticks in the nymphal stage are most likely to bite humans.

Tick-borne diseases, such as Lyme disease, are a public health concern. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimate that approximately 476,000 people may contract Lyme disease each year in the United States.

Read on to learn how to prevent tick bites and what actions to take if you find a bite.

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Ticks prefer certain environments. So avoiding tick hotspots is an effective way to prevent tick bites.

Ticks can cling to tall grasses but are usually no more than 24 inches off the ground. Otherwise, they will remain at ground level near the soil. Before venturing outdoors in an at-risk environment, a person should make sure they have appropriate clothing that will protect them from tick bites.

A person can take steps to avoid direct contact with a tick by:

  • wearing light-colored clothing to make ticks easier to spot
  • wearing clothing with a tight weave
  • wearing closed shoes to protect the feet
  • wearing long pants tucked into socks or boots at the cuff
  • wearing a long-sleeved shirt tucked into the waistband
  • tying back long hair, especially if a person is gardening

Applying an insect repellent that contains permethrin to clothing can kill ticks upon contact with the fabric. Before putting the clothes on, it is best to spray them with the repellent outdoors or in a well-ventilated area to avoid inhaling any toxins.

Permethrin products are not for use on the skin.

While outdoors, a person may wish to avoid contact with tick habitats. Ticks will not drop down onto a person from a height. However, they will climb upward until they find a protected area, such as a pant leg.

A person should try to avoid contact with:

  • soil
  • leaf litter
  • old stone walls
  • low level vegetation, such as heathlands

Insect repellent is effective at warding off ticks. The higher the concentration of repellent, the better the protection.

Alongside permethrin, other insect repellents that can provide lasting protection against insect bites include:

  • DEET, or N,N-diethyl-meta-toluamide
  • picaridin, or KBR3023
  • lemon eucalyptus essential oil

It is important to keep insect repellents out of reach of children. Always follow the instruction on the packaging of these products.

A person who has been outdoors can take the following steps once they return home. When checking for a tick, it is best to use the hands and not just the eyes. This is because ticks can be very small, and a person may feel them before they can see them.

These steps may help prevent bites from any ticks that have yet to latch on:

  • Wash clothing: Immediately remove clothing, wash, and dry it in a hot dryer for 1 hour, killing any ticks within the fabric.
  • Shower: A person can shower within 2 hours of returning home to help wash off any ticks that do not latch on. Checking the armpits, hair, ears, and groin will help.
  • Check children and pets: Brushing a pet’s fur will help eliminate any ticks that have yet to find their skin and latch on.

Identifying a tick is the first step to removing them.

When a tick latches onto a person’s skin, it will appear like a black dot. Depending on how long it takes for a person to find the tick, the size can vary greatly. So, it is important for a person to use their hands when checking for ticks after being outdoors.

Check the following areas:

  • the hair
  • the ears
  • the armpits
  • the waist
  • between the legs
  • the belly button
  • behind the knees

If a person finds a tick on their skin, they should remove it as soon as possible.

Some tips for removing a tick include:

  • using a fine-tipped set of tweezers
  • gripping the tip as close to the skin as possible
  • pulling upward, avoiding bending the tick at an angle, as this can cause the mouthparts to remain in the skin
    • If this occurs, clean and leave the site to heal.
  • cleaning the bite and hands with sanitizing soap or rubbing alcohol
  • placing a living tick in an airtight bag with rubbing alcohol and flushing it down the toilet
  • never crushing a tick with the fingers

Avoid folk remedies, such as smothering the tick in petroleum jelly or nail polish or heating the tick.

Do not wait for the tick to detach.

If a person is unable to remove the tick themselves, they should seek help from a medical professional.

It is also important to monitor for potential symptoms of tick-borne diseases. Some of the symptoms to be aware of include:

If a person experiences these symptoms, they should contact a doctor as soon as possible.

Tick bites are only harmful if the tick is carrying a tick-borne disease such as Lyme disease. Therefore, preventing tick bites is an important aspect of outdoor safety while hiking or gardening.

Ticks can only bite when in direct contact with skin. Dressing appropriately by covering the legs and ankles and tying back long hair can help prevent tick bites.

Showering and washing clothing after spending time outside can also help, along with using insect repellent.