Summer weather means lots of time outdoors for kids. It can also mean a risk of bug bites. Biting insects like ticks are common in many places during the warm months, and it's not unusual for people of any age to find one on their skin.
If you find a tick on your child, you might be concerned about what it means to their health. Most of the time, you can remove a tick at home, and your child will be fine right afterward. There is a small risk of tick-borne disease after a bite, so it's important to know what to look for in the days after a tick bite.
What Are Ticks?
Ticks are tiny arachnids that feed on blood from mammals. They attach themselves to a person or animal by biting them and burrowing into the skin to feed. Their bites are usually painless, and you may not notice a tick on your body unless you're looking for it. They can be as small as a poppy seed or closer to the size of a pencil eraser. If you don't remove a tick, it will feed on a host for 3 to 6 days before dropping off on its own.
There are hundreds of kinds of ticks, and they live all over the world. In North America, ticks are most active from May to October. However, it's possible to get a tick bite any time of year.
How Can I Remove a Tick?
If you find a tick on your child, you should remove it right away.
- Use tweezers to grasp the tick as close to the skin as you can.
- Pull straight upward without twisting to remove the tick.
- Place the tick in a plastic bag or other sealed container.
- Clean the area of the bite with warm water and soap.
Once the tick is off your child, call their doctor and tell them what happened. They may want to see your child, or they may have instructions for follow-up care that they can give you over the phone.
If you keep the tick in a bag after taking it off your child's skin, you can bring it to your doctor. They can tell you what kind of tick it is. Not all ticks carry diseases, and knowing which type bit your child will help you understand what to look for after the bite. In some cases, you can even send the tick to a lab and test it for diseases.
Are Tick Bites Dangerous?
Most of the time, a tick won't cause serious problems. The bites don't hurt, and once you remove a tick, your child may have a painless red spot that goes away after a few days.
People can be allergic to ticks in rare cases and may react to the bite. Call your doctor if your child shows any symptoms of an allergic reaction, including:
- Muscle or joint pain
- Muscle weakness
- Pain and swelling at the bite
Ticks can also carry diseases and pass them on to humans, including:
Lyme disease is the most common tick-borne disease in the United States. Most cases are reported in the Northeast, Pacific Coast, and Upper Midwest, where deer ticks carry Lyme. But even if a deer tick bites your child, the risk of Lyme disease is very low. A tick needs to be on a person for 36 to 48 hours to be able to transmit the bacteria that cause Lyme disease.
What Should I Look for After a Tick Bites My Child?
Once you have removed the tick from your child, you should watch for signs of a reaction or possible disease from the bite. Call your doctor right away if you notice any of the following symptoms in your child:
- Widespread rash beginning 2 to 14 days after the bite
- Fever or headache beginning 2 to 14 days after the bite
- Increased redness or swelling over time
- Weak, droopy eyelids, droopy face, or a crooked smile
Be on the lookout for a red ring or bull's-eye rash appearing 3 to 30 days after the bite. This is a symptom of Lyme disease. The rash is harder to see on dark skin tones, so speak to your doctor about what it might look like on your child.
Can I Prevent Tick Bites?
You can protect your child from ticks by using an insect repellent that you spray on their skin and clothes. Your doctor can recommend a good spray. You can also encourage your child to wear tight-fitting clothing, including socks and a hat to keep ticks away from their skin.
Check your child for ticks whenever they have been playing outside. Pay special attention to their scalp, elbows, and knees, as well as the skin behind their ears and under their arms.