Blacklegged ticks are like spiders that love warm and moist places. They generally hang out in bushes and shrubs, but sadly, furry pets and humans are amongst their most common habitats for their love of blood. It’s quite okay to feel grossed out once you have discovered one of them merrily attached to you or your pet. But that also means that you have to find out how to remove a tick head properly without messing things up. Yes, tick heads do tend to break off easily if you act hastily. Lucky for you, you can read on to know just what to do and how to do it once you have spotted a tick.
In This Article
How To Remove A Tick: Do It Easy And Quick
The only reason you may be asking how to remove a tick from a human is that you have got one on you or on someone close to you. Don’t worry because there is a trick to remove ticks easily! But before you get into that, you need to be sure that what you have encountered is indeed a tick. How do you do that? See if it:
- Looks like a spider, with eight legs.
- Is attached to the skin.
- Is getting fatter, sitting there and sucking away merrily.
If you have ticked yes on all or most of the above, you have definitely got a stubborn tick on your hands. Now, you can proceed to the following steps of tick head removal.
- Step 1: Get A Tweezer
So, this is the most important step. If you want to know how to remove a tick head, you need to be ready with your arsenal, and the tweezer is your greatest weapon. The tweezer must have fine tips. Anything too wide or too blunted won’t be able to hold onto a tick that’s not yet engorged, and you take the risk of decapitating it.
- Step 2: Sterilize Your Tweezer
Use rubbing alcohol or a traditional 5 minute boil to get your tweezer sterilized. Alternatively, you can sterilize it by washing it in soapy hot water. This step is important to avoid infecting a tick bite.
- Step 3: Grab The Tick Below The Head
Now, here’s the tricky part, so you may want to pay attention. You have to get the angled end of your tweezer close to the tick head stuck in the skin and grab hold of the part below the head closest to the skin. Compressing the head can rupture it and spread contaminated fluids. If you grab the body of the tick, you run the risk of pulling out the body but get the tick head left in the skin. Try to angle your hands so that you have a firm grip on the tick. Since this step is very important, get someone to help if you can’t reach the spot yourself.
- Step 4: Pull Out The Tick Firmly
Finally, use a straight, smooth, and firm tug to get the tick out, including the head and squirming legs.
Congratulations, the tick is off. But hold on here before you breathe a sigh of relief. A lot of times, even with the best efforts, the head gets separated in this tug of war. So, how to tell if the tick head is still in the skin or if your mission is a success? Well, there’s only one way to find out.
Is The Tick Head Out?
When you look at what you have pulled out, you should be able to see the head of the tick and its squirming legs. You will know you have succeeded at removing the tick head if the tick is alive and moving, or if you can spot the head. Otherwise, you have to figure out how to remove a tick head that’s embedded in the skin. And, that is a little tricky.
So, what to do if the tick head is stuck in the skin? Well, you have 3 options:
- Option 1: Go Back In With The Tweezer
With only the body of the tick out, your job remains incomplete and you need a strategy for how to get a tick head out. The most obvious course of action is to go back in with the tweezer. In the best-case scenario, the tick head is still visible on the skin. You need to be firm and tug it out in a strong, upward motion.
- Option 2: Change Your Weapon- Use A Needle
The tick head may be too small to be grasped by a tweezer if part of it has broken off. In that case, you can use a sterilized needle. Use the point of the needle to widen the hole where the tick is buried. Take care not to break open your skin. Once your needlepoint is touching the tick head, pull it out gently. You should be able to see it on your needle once it’s out.
- Option 3: Do Nothing, Let It Be
Some people just let the tick head be, especially if it is too small to remove with a needle or a tweezer or if it has broken apart under the skin.
The third option brings us to a pertinent question— what happens if you don’t get the head of a tick out? Let’s find out.
Is It Too Risky To Let The Head Stay In Your Skin?
A tick bite may cause Lyme disease in some cases, but a tick head under the skin does not (1). However, it is still risky to not know how to remove a tick head and let it be under your skin. That’s because the mouth of the tick can spread fungal, parasitical, viral, or bacterial infection in case the tick is already infested (2).
Another risk factor is a type of inflammation (called foreign body-type granuloma) from the bits and pieces of the tick’s head that are left behind under the skin. That’s because your body is not able to digest the remaining tick head bits and sends your immune system to wall them off, treating them as foreign particles and dangerous (3).
With luck on your side, a tick head may fall off by itself if you have let it be, but then again, it may not. The best thing to do is try as carefully as possible to get the entire tick out in one piece using a tweezer or a needle. Or in the worst-case scenario, try to get as much of the remains of the tick’s head off using a sterilized needle.
Whether you have gotten the tick out in one piece, or multiple pieces, your job’s not complete yet. There is something else that you need to do before it’s all done and dusted. Let’s see what.
Tick’s Out, What’s Next?
Getting the parasitic bug out is a tremendous relief, but you also need to know what to do after removing a tick to lower your risk of infection on the site of the bite. For that, you need to thoroughly clean the area where the tick was lodged with rubbing alcohol or soap and water. For added protection, use an antibacterial ointment on the bite (2).
You are free of the tick and have followed all the necessary steps. But there’s still one looming question: What to do with the tick? Let’s see.
Don’t Throw Away The Tick You Pulled Out, At Least Not Yet
You may feel tempted to flush the tick down the toilet, or if you are ticked off, to squash it between your fingers. The former action is still fine, but don’t do the latter. You don’t want to spread what may be pathogen-laden internal fluids of the tick all over you. The best way to deal with a tick that you have removed is to suffocate it using rubbing alcohol. Use a towel soaking with rubbing alcohol and place the tick on it. Ticks are sneaky and can disappear quickly so be cautious.
Some people choose to save the tick for 30 days by storing it along with the towel in a small airtight container. The reasoning behind this is to keep the tick for getting it tested by medical professionals in case any symptoms of Lyme disease or other infections arise.
A tick bite may cause nothing more than irritation, but in some cases, it can get quite dangerous. Let’s see when to call for a doctor after a tick bite.
When Should You Call The Doctor?
Even after you have followed all the instructions on how to remove a tick head, and taken care to disinfect the site of the tick bite, you may face some trouble. Please make sure that you give your doctor a call in case any of these things happen:
- The tick bite feels warm to the touch or oozes green or white liquid.
- You get rashes on your body.
- You develop a rash, pain in your joints, stiff muscles, or fever within 30 days of a tick bite. These may be symptoms of Lyme disease (1).
To sum up, tick bites may or may not be harmless and even if you don’t get Lyme disease, there is always a concern for secondary infections (3). So you must take care while you remove a tick head and its body from the skin and disinfect the area. It is best to call your doctor if you cannot get the tick head out and follow professional advice rather than break and damage your skin with a needle or other sharp objects. Wear protective clothing as a caution to avoid getting ticks on you while you are walking in bushy areas or handling pets and other animals.
Expert’s Answers For Readers’ Questions
What happens if the tick’s head stays in?
Infections or inflammation can happen if the tick’s head stays in your skin (3).
Will a tick head eventually come out?
In some cases, a tick’s head eventually falls out, but there is no evidence to suggest that it will for certain.
How do you remove a tick that is embedded?
You can use fine curved tweezers or a needle to remove an embedded tick.
Will rubbing alcohol make a tick come out?
It may, but it is not a scientifically supported method. A review of studies conducted to find the safest and the most effective method of tick removal has discredited the use of alcohol and notes that tweezers or tick removal tools are the best options (4).
What do you do if the tick’s head breaks off?
You try to remove the head using sterilized fine tweezers or a sterilized needle. You do not scratch with cards or dig up the skin. In case you are unable to remove it, consult your doctor and proceed accordingly.
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- Lyme Disease
- Skin Manifestations of Tick Bites in Humans
- Local Reactions to Tick Bites
- Methods of Tick Removal: A Systematic Review of the Literature