How to Remove a Tick Safely and Effectively

IgorChus/iStock via Getty Images
IgorChus/iStock via Getty Images / IgorChus/iStock via Getty Images

Even after spraying yourself with bug repellent and bundling up in long sleeves in sweltering summer heat, you can still attract ticks. The best way to avoid tick-borne illnesses like Lyme disease and STARI is to avoid getting bitten in the first place. But if you do feel that telltale bump on your skin, don't panic—as long you remove the parasite quickly, you can drastically reduce your chances of contracting whatever pathogens it may be carrying.

There are several myths regarding the best way to remove a tick. You may have heard that you should hold a lighter up to it to force it to detach from your skin. Don't do this—not only is it dangerous (you'll probably end up burning more of yourself than the tick), it's also ineffective. The same goes for smothering a tick with soap, rubbing alcohol, or petroleum jelly. Research shows that if you want to lower your chances of catching a tick-borne disease, the best course of action is to remove it with tweezers.

As soon as you see or feel that you've been bitten by a tick, grab a pair of fine-tipped tweezers. Gently grasp the tick's body between the tweezers, making sure to get the tips as close to your skin as possible, and extract the tick with a slow, even upward movement. The goal is to remove the tick in one piece. If the mouth parts stay embedded in your skin, try to pick them off with clean tweezers. If that isn't possible, leave the remnants to fall out on their own.

Once the tick is out, the next thing you need to do is dispose of it safely. Drowning it—either by submerging it in a container of alcohol or soapy water or flushing it down the toilet—is a foolproof option. If you need to toss it in the trash, wrap it up in tape beforehand so it can't crawl out and return for a second helping.

Not all ticks carry diseases, so being bitten by one may not warrant a trip to the doctor. Before seeking medical attention, gauge your symptoms in the weeks following the bite. Do you feel feverish? Has a rash developed around the bite site? If the answer is yes to either question, it's worth getting your bite checked out.