lyme disease ticks

You can’t just pluck suspected Lyme Disease ticks off your body, and you certainly don’t want to burn them off.

Lyme Disease ticks are insidious little creatures; they’re good at hiding, sneaking through defenses, and finding out-of-the-way places to latch onto their victims. They have to be, given their bloodsucking, parasitic lifestyle.

But a thorough examination will reveal their presence, and quick removal will limit your possibility of contracting a Lyme Disease infection…assuming you remove the ticks properly. If you don’t, you can increase your chances of infection. So in this article, we’ll explain the best way to remove ticks of all kinds, just in case.

What You Should Never Do

For decades, well-meaning sources (including the influential Boy Scout Handbook) recommended using the hot end of a match or cigarette to make the tick let go voluntarily, so that you could then remove the tick without leaving the mouthparts in the skin. This kind of made sense.

However, there are two problems with this removal method. First, it’s easy to miss and burn yourself. Second, it turns out that if you burn a tick this way, it might vomit its gut contents into your body before it releases. If the Borrelia spirochetes haven’t already invaded you, this will certainly do it.

Some folks recommend smothering the tick with nail polish or petroleum jelly. This seems to work for chiggers, but it just irritates deer ticks (the primary Lyme Disease vectors) and may very well cause them to regurgitate their stomach contents into you — and there you are again with a greater chance of infection.

The Best Option

The best way to get rid of any tick is to just pull it out and, as one source puts it, “hope for the best.” Even here, you’ll need to be very careful. Use tweezers rather than your fingers, and don’t grasp the tick in the middle of its body. Either method can, you guessed it, cause it to regurgitate.

Instead, grasp the tick as close to the mouthparts as you can. They actually make special tick removal tweezers with very thin prongs for this, as well as slotted tick removal devices. You should be able to find these at a local pharmacy, and it’s worth the wait to get them (as long as you don’t wait too long).

Whatever your tool of choice, grasp the tick as close to the skin as you can and pull with a steady upward motion until it detaches. Then either kill the tick or save it in an escape-proof container for later identification, if you prefer. Finally, swab the puncture area with a strong disinfectant and some antibiotic cream.

After the Removal

Post-removal care is very important here, and can make the difference between stopping an LD infection in its tracks and getting sick long-term. If you go the identification route and discover that your tick is, in fact, an Ixodes deer tick, you need to be especially vigilant.

Continue to apply disinfectant and antibiotic cream to the wound; this won’t stop LD spirochetes, but it will forestall ordinary infection as well as some non-Lyme infections that might have entered with the tick bite. Remember, ticks carry a large number of diseases.

If you observe any rash at all around the location of the bite, especially if it’s of the bull’s-eye variety, go to the doctor immediately and have them test you for LD. If tenderness and redness continues for more than a few days, or you’re just not certain whether it’s getting better, go to the doctor anyway.

Better safe than sorry when dealing with ticks — any ticks at all, Lyme Disease ticks or otherwise.