Through the Internet and common folklore, misinformation about tick removal perpetuates, some of which may significantly increase the risk of an infection resulting. Below we bust the top myths about tick removal that we hear on a regular basis.
Those old tricks you learned from your relatives about removing ticks — spraying them with perfume or alcohol, lighting a match next to the tick, painting it with nail polish or essential oils — are not only old and outdated, they’re actually quite possibly dangerous!
Firstly, in addition to openings on its sides called spiracles, ticks can also breathe through their mouth once they’re attached to a host. So trying to suffocate them is pretty much pointless. Add the fact that ticks only breathe around 1–3 times per hour on average, and that just proves to be ineffective.
Using solutions such as alcohol, aftershave, oils or butter, paraffin, petroleum jelly, essential oils or nail polish, while trying to suffocate the tick, may actually cause it to regurgitate (vomit) saliva and gut contents as it tries to disengage its mouth parts and escape the irritating solution. There have not been enough studies to corroborate the regurgitation scenario, however there have been plenty of studies that have concluded that using the aforementioned solutions do produce a significantly higher number of of tickborne illness cases.
Once *properly* removed, wash both your hands as well as the bite site thoroughly with soap and water, and disinfect the bite site with rubbing alcohol if available to reduce the chances of infection.
For most tick-borne diseases, the tick needs to be attached for longer than 24 hours to transmit disease. Because of the biology of the way ticks feed, bacterial diseases live in ticks’ stomachs, and in order to be transmitted, need to get to the saliva, a process that typically takes at least 24 hours—which means that checking yourself for ticks as soon as you get indoors can help you find ticks before they’ve had the chance to make you sick.
That said, there have been various studies that suggest that shorter time periods can result in other tick-borne diseases. Lyme disease may take as little as 16 hours (typically 24-36 however), Rocky Mountain spotted fever takes on average just 4-6 hours, Powassan Virus may take as little as 15 minutes, and some studies suggest that MMA (Alpha-Gal) may be nearly instantly.
While burning a tick off the skin may seem like a satisfying and fool-proof way to get the blood-sucker off, it’s also one of the absolute worst ways to remove it. Burning it may actually increase the risk of getting a tick-borne disease, as applying heat can increase the tick’s saliva production and can increase pathogen transmission.
Beyond burning yourself, or starting a fire, you may just end up with a scorched tick attached to your skin. It’s mouthparts are shaped like an anchor with backward point spines, so until that tick decides it wants to release itself, it’s physically attached.
This is an extremely popular belief, albeit an untrue one. Ticks do not simply fall out of trees. In fact, while ticks do climb, they rarely actually climb higher than roughly 3 feet high – and even then, it’s almost never on trees. In a behavior called questing, the tick will climb up a blade of grass or a shrub, and when you or your pet walks by and brushes against the grass or leaf, the tick reaches out and climbs onto the you.
While a very small group of people may be able to feel a tick bite, the vast majority aren’t ever aware they’ve been bitten until they do a thorough tick check in the shower. Ticks secrete an anesthetic compound that makes the animals they bite unaware they are being bitten (or fed on).
Adult deer ticks actually begin their feeding activity around the time of the first frost, and they will latch onto you or your pets anytime the temperature is above freezing. Temperatures have to drop below 10 degrees F for a long time in order for ticks to start dying off. Even when temps drop below freezing, ticks are still out there. They may not be as efficient at attaching themselves to a host, but they’re still alive. We’ve taught wilderness medicine courses in Northern Virginia with 3″-4″ of snow on the ground, and have still encountered ticks!
Sorry! A ticks’ mouthparts are not screw-threaded. The barbs on the mouth parts can be released by a turning action but this should only be performed with a tool designed for twisting (e.g. Tick Twister). Twisting with tweezers, forceps or fingers is likely to exert too much pressure to the mouth parts and they may break off.
Using your fingers for tick removal is likely to compress the body of the tick, forcing fluids (saliva and gut contents) into the bloodstream of the person or animal it is attached to. If these fluids contain disease-causing organisms, this can significantly increase the likelihood of a serious resulting infection.
Using fingernails to nip a tick off, even if you have avoided compressing the tick’s body, is also likely to exert pressure to the mouth parts and snap them off. A tick should NOT be handled with bare hands as certain disease-causing organisms can enter through breaks in the skin or mucous membranes (if you touch your eyes, nose or mouth).
Only a tick’s mouth parts enter the body of its host. If the mouth parts break off, they become dead matter and cannot regrow.
Ticks have back-facing barbs on their mouthparts and most hard-tick species cement themselves into the skin with special saliva. It takes some time for a tick to engage its mouth parts in the skin and for it to disengage them. Sorry, there is literally NO WAY to surprise a tick! Do however, remove any attached ticks as soon as possible to avoid getting a tickborne illness.
Ticks do NOT lay eggs either inside or on a host. Eggs are laid on the ground in soil and leaf litter, or around the nesting/roosting areas of their hosts. Some types of mites and lice do lay eggs on their host and confusion between ticks, mites and lice may have given rise to this myth. A typical female tick can lay between 2,000 and 18,000 eggs per batch. Luckily, female ticks die after laying their eggs.
Sometimes a tick bite (or any insect bite for that matter) can become infected and the pus globules resulting from the infection can also be mistaken for eggs.
The BEST way to avoid contracting a tick-borne disease is to avoid tick attachment in the first place. For simple preventative measures to stay Tick Safe, see our Tick Prevention page.