Knowing what a tick bite looks like can be incredibly helpful, especially if you live in a tick-infested area, frequent wooded areas, or enjoy outdoor activities, especially in the spring and summer.
Ticks are little, blood-sucking parasites that are common in wooded areas. The majority of tick bites are not harmful, but some of them can spread diseases that can be dangerous or even life-threatening if you don’t get them treated.
Tick bites affect 50,000 Americans each year. Unfortunately, in contrast to other insect bites, tick bites do not immediately cause pain or itching.
As if that weren’t bad enough, ticks inject anesthetic into your skin while they feed, making them even trickier to notice. Once they’re full, they sneakily fall off your skin and go elsewhere.
Now the question is, how do you determine whether or not the insect bite you’ve noticed is actually caused by a tick? In this article, we’ll help you learn what tick bites look like, and what you can do to prevent them in the first place.
How Do You Know If You Have Gotten a Tick Bite?
The symptoms of a tick bite vary from person to person since everyone’s immune system reacts differently to them. After the tick falls off, some people may notice a little red bump, while others may notice a red, itchy patch.
Finding the tick while it is still attached to your skin is the easiest way to tell if you’ve gotten a tick bite. Ticks are parasites that stick to hosts and stay put while feeding. Their mouths contain many barbs that point backward and help the tick to remain in place. Biters secrete a cement-like material around their jaws to keep them fastened even if they are accidentally scratched at.
Ticks can be present for three to six days, depending on their stage of development, i.e. larva, nymph, or adult (full-sized animal). The risk of spreading disease increases as they grow larger and continue to feed.
If you’ve been bitten before, there’s a higher chance that the tick saliva will cause an allergic reaction around 20 to 40 hours after the bite.
Following a bite, the affected region may appear as a small, red spot that may not grow larger than a dime. But, more severe reactions including rashes are possible.
Even tick experts have trouble distinguishing between different types of red marks caused by tick bites because of how widely they can range in appearance and resemble bites from other insects.
What Does an Early Tick Bite Look Like?
Most people don’t realize when they have been bitten by a tick. That’s because tick bites don’t hurt or itch like mosquito bites or other insect bites do. A tick bite can sometimes result in a skin reaction, such as a rash or a tiny lump.
In addition to flu-like symptoms such as fever, chills, headache, muscle aches, and fatigue, tick-borne diseases can also cause itching, irritation, and skin rash.
What are the Complications and Risks of a Tick Bite?
Ticks are disease vectors that spread illnesses between humans and animals by transferring bacteria and viruses between their hosts. After a tick bites its host, germs in the tick’s saliva can get into the host’s blood and cause an infection.
It is important to note that not all tick bites result in a tick-borne disease. Plus, you may be able to remove a tick before it may transmit germs.
It is pretty rare for a tick bite to cause a life-threatening illness, but it doesn’t hurt to know about the possible complications and risks.
The chance of getting these tick-borne diseases depends on where you live, what kind of tick you get bit by, and how long the tick was on your skin.
The flu-like symptoms (headaches, fever, aches) you may experience after a tick bite can indicate a variety of medical conditions.
The safest course of action, regardless of the symptoms you are experiencing, is to consult your healthcare provider as soon as possible following a bite to determine if you have contracted any of the following diseases:
It’s important to understand that most illnesses, including Lyme disease, require the tick to be attached for hours before symptoms appear.
Before transmitting Lyme disease, the deer tick needs to feed for more than 36 hours. If left untreated, neck stiffness, facial palsy, and joint and nerve discomfort may develop.
Anaplasmosis condition is renowned for worse-felt flu-like symptoms than Lyme disease, including side effects such as fever and chills.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), anaplasmosis can cause long-term complications such as brain damage and kidney failure, which is yet another reason to see a doctor immediately if you’ve been bitten by a tick.
According to the CDC, another potential complication is babesiosis, an infection of the red blood cells caused by the tick’s bite.
Babesiosis occurs when a small parasite is injected into your bloodstream from the tick’s mouth, and those who catch the illness normally have no visible symptoms.
This emphasizes the necessity of prevention when preparing for outdoor trips where you may be exposed to ticks.
Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever
Rocky Mountain spotted fever (RMSF) is one of the most fatal tick-borne diseases in the United States. It is typically characterized by fevers and rashes that appear after and around the tick bite.
The rash that results from this bacterial infection first appears on your palms, ankles, and soles of the feet before spreading to the center of your body.
Moreover, ticks can spread pathogens and lead to tick-borne illnesses like:
- Southern tick-associated rash illness (STARI)
- Heartland virus
- Spotted fever
- Powassan virus
- Colorado tick fever
- Relapsing fever
- Tick paralysis
What Do Ticks Look Like?
Ticks are a type of arachnid that are related to spiders and scorpions. They are reddish-brown or black in color, occasionally with light patterns, and have eight legs. Ticks can be as small as a pinhead or as large as a pencil eraser.
Ticks are small and hard to spot until they have been attached on your skin for a while. As they feed on blood, ticks can swell to the size of a marble and take on a greenish-blue color.
Common tick species in the United States include the black-legged or deer tick, the lone star tick, and the dog tick.
Common types of dog ticks include the American dog tick, brown dog tick, and Amazon dog tick.
What Does a Lyme Tick Bite Look Like?
The type of rash caused by a tick bite can give you a hint about the illness it has spread. A typical Lyme tick bite, for instance, is a solid red oval with a central spot or bull’s eye around a clear area and a larger red circle.
Bull’s-eye rash brought on by a Lyme tick bite is often flat and itchy, although it can grow over time. Similar bullseye rashes are found with southern tick-borne rash disease (STARI).
The Lone Star tick rash is another name for this particular bull’s-eye rash.
Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever can cause petechiae which are purplish-red patches. Some tick bite rashes look like random red spots that can be hard to figure out.
What Happens When a Tick Bites You?
Ticks usually bite skin that is exposed, like the arms and legs. They do, however, like warm, moist areas of the body with plenty of blood. As a result, ticks can spread from the biting site to the backs of the knees, groin, belly button, waist, armpits, ears, and hair.
Keep in mind that ticks may not move, instead choosing to stay anchored to the bite site. Hence, if you suspect a tick has bitten you, check your entire body and try to find the tick clinging to your skin.
After reaching its target, a tick bites once, draws blood and attaches itself to the skin.
Normally, you don’t feel the bite when it happens. After around 10 days of feeding, the engorged tick falls off on its own.
What To Do If You Get Bitten By a Tick?
Ticks should be removed with blunt tweezers in a firm but careful way. For tick removal, avoid using kerosene, petroleum jelly, or a cigarette butt.
Take hold of the tick close to its head and pull until it detaches from your skin. Avoid handling ticks with bare hands or squeezing the tick’s body since doing so can spread germs. Wash the area with soap and water once the tick has been removed.
Following a tick bite, you should immediately notify your healthcare practitioner. Your doctor may recommend that you see an infectious disease specialist.
Even in the absence of symptoms, therapy for vector-borne diseases such as Lyme disease may be started shortly after a tick bite.
Get medical care if you discover a tick that has been attached for several hours or days, if you notice a rash at the bite site or elsewhere on your body, or if you experience discomfort, blisters, flu-like symptoms, or any other symptoms.
How to Reduce the Risk of Getting a Tick Bite
Taking some basic safety measures will help you avoid getting bitten by ticks and other insects if you live in a tick-infested area, frequent wooded areas, or enjoy outdoor activities, especially in the spring and summer.
Here’s what you can do:
- Consider wearing light-colored and long-sleeved clothing. It’s recommended to also wear tightly-woven fabrics to prevent ticks from attaching to your skin
- Make sure to tuck your pants into your socks or boots
- Stay near the center of trails whenever you’re hiking in the woods
- Mow your lawn regularly to prevent ticks
- Use insect repellents on exposed skin when heading outdoors
- Consider wearing clothes treated with permethrin
- Make sure to check your body for ticks when you come in from outside
- Take a shower immediately after working in the yard or hiking in the woods and check your clothes and gear for ticks
- Wash clothes and gear immediately after returning. A 15-minute cycle in the dryer will kill ticks
- Make sure to check your pets and use tick prevention products for pets whenever possible
Other Pest Control Articles from Planet Natural:
Effective Tick Control: How to Get Rid of Ticks in Your Yard
Water Bugs: What Are They Exactly and How to Get Rid of Them
Sand Fleas: What Exactly Are They and Do They Bite?
Melissa Askari is a biologist and master gardener who is known for her contributions to the field of sustainable living. She is a regular contributor to Planet Natural, a website that provides information and resources for gardening, composting and pest control. Melissa's work focuses on promoting environmentally-friendly practices and helping people create beautiful, healthy gardens using natural methods. With her expertise in both biology and gardening, Melissa is able to provide valuable insights and advice to gardeners of all levels. Her passion for the natural world is evident in her writing and her dedication to promoting sustainable practices that benefit both people and the planet.