By Dr. Ellen Lewis
Though seemingly harmless, if left untreated tick bites can lead to skin infections and even Lyme disease, a debilitating condition with symptoms that mimic autoimmune disease.
Summer is the season when you’re far more likely to be diagnosed with Lyme than the rest of the year, according to the CDC, so it’s essential to take some basic precautions to prevent against tick bites, as well as understanding what steps to take if you are bitten.
In this article you’re going to learn tick bite prevention, how to respond if you get a tick bite, and some tools for treatment after a bite.
Think of this as your “Tick Bite Toolkit,” and after reading be sure to bookmark this webpage so you know how to handle your family’s tick bite prevention this summer.
Tick Bite Prevention
There are standard precautions you can take to avoid getting bit by a tick, and they’re especially important to follow as the weather gets warmer and we all spend more time outdoors. Follow these steps to avoid getting a tick bite:
- Wear long sleeves, long pants, and long socks to keep ticks from getting access to your skin in the first place.
- When you come inside from outdoor adventures, be sure to check your skin for ticks right when you walk in the door, and throw your clothes in the wash right away as well. Make sure to check your pet’s and children’s skin as well!
- Wear a natural insect repellant when you’re going to be in a known tick-infested area.
- If you’re pregnant, avoid tick-infested areas as much as possible.
The CDC reports that cases of Lyme disease are far more common in June and July, so we’re entering the season when you need to use more precautions to prevent tick bites!
What To Do If You Get a Tick Bite
1 | Safe Tick Removal
Most ticks do not carry disease, but it is still important to avoid tick bites, and remove the tick immediately if you are bitten.
It is important to remove the entire tick to avoid infectious parts of the tick passing conditions like Lyme disease or a skin infection on to you.
But just how do you safely remove the tick from your skin?
You can find a detailed tick-removal protocol with images from the CDC here, but to start with you’ll need a fine-tipped pair of tweezers (if you don’t have tweezers with you, you can use your hand but be sure to use a glove or cloth to cover your finger when removing the tick so it doesn’t come into direct contact with you skin).
- Make sure that if the tick’s belly is swollen, you do not squeeze the belly since this can push infectious fluid into your body through it’s mouth.
- Do not twist the tick as you remove it, since this might break off the body from the head and leave part of the tick attached to you, increasing the risk of infection.
- The tick will be attached to your skin by it’s mouth. Grasp the tick as close to the mouth as possible, and gently pull it straight out until it’s mouth detaches from your skin.
- Place the entire tick into a ziplock bag or airtight container and save in the freezer for later testing.
- Wash the site of the bite with soap and warm water, and make sure you wash your hands thoroughly.
Note: If you can’t remove the tick safely on your own, contact your doctor for assistance.
2 | Where to Send the Tick for Testing
In order to treat you properly, we must begin with accurate testing. Many Lyme disease tests are not reliable right after the bite, so it’s important to follow the advice of your practitioner to get tested at the appropriate time and interpret your test results.
If you are able to save the tick that bit you, free mail-in testing is available through Bay Area Lyme Foundation, or for our local Connecticut patients the local health district currently offers testing for $10.
3 | Treatment for an Acute Tick Bite
As a naturopathic doctor, my job is to support your body as it heals itself naturally. When it comes to tick bites, my goals are to help you to eliminate any pathogens in your body, boost your immunity, and relieve your symptoms.
After the tick is safely removed, I like to apply Cicatrisan Cream by Unda/Genestra at the site of the bite. For infection prevention after a tick bite, I encourage patients to start taking Lyme Nosode by Professional Co-Op right away.
Boosting the body’s immune system allows it to stop any inflammation and prevent further infection. This is best done by bolstering the diet with immune-supporting foods rich in antioxidants and probiotics.
If there are any signs or symptoms after these measures are taken, you need to seek further treatment.
What is Chronic Lyme Disease?
After a tick bite, many are worried about contracting Lyme disease. It’s important to understand what Lyme disease is and how a tick bite can cause it.
Lyme disease is caused by the spiral-shaped bacteria Borrelia burgdorferi. This bacteria usually enters the body via a bite from a type of deer tick known as the black-legged tick. While the tick bite isn’t the only way the infection can spread, it is the most common. The B. burgdorferi infection attacks the nervous system, skin, heart and joints.
Early Lyme disease symptoms begin with a bull’s eye shaped rash at the site of the bite, as well as flu-like symptoms including aching joints, headaches, and general malaise. Long term exposure of the immune system to the bacteria eventually creates an ongoing inflammatory cycle that can cause chronic autoimmune disease.
Chronic Lyme disease is also called Post-Treatment Lyme Disease Syndrome (PTLDS) by health care providers once the symptoms have carried on for many months.
Symptoms may include:
- Fatigue, difficulty sleeping, lethargy
- Forgetfulness, trouble concentrating
- Digestive problems
- Body and joint aches similar to arthritis
- Headaches and neck stiffness
For those with chronic Lyme disease, Dr. Carine Bonnist offers Ozone Therapy right here in our office at Shalva Clinic. You can learn more about Ozone Therapy for treating chronic Lyme disease right here.