How to Prevent Tick Bites

For such tiny critters, ticks can cause some big problems, from Lyme disease to Rocky Mountain spotted fever. It’s best to avoid tick bites if you can, and it’s not just outdoorsy types who need to be careful. Even gardening and yardwork can expose you to ticks.

The good news is that you can do a lot to protect yourself. A little awareness and a few practical steps can go a long way to keep you safe.

Areas to Avoid

Your first line of defense is to avoid areas where ticks are likely to hang out.

They can’t jump or fly, so they just wait for an animal to brush up against whatever they’re perched on. They like wooded areas with lots of shrubs, tall grasses and weeds, and leaf litter -- all good places to latch on to animals walking by.

If you go walking or hiking in the woods, stay in the center of the trails. If you’re camping, don’t sit on the ground or walk through leaf litter.

Even if your house isn’t backed up to a forest, ticks are still a problem. Fallen leaves that don’t get raked and overgrown lawns work just as well for them. Even pets can carry them around as they go through your yard.

When you place your lawn furniture or a swing set, go for sunny, dry areas away from the woods. And if you’re out for a picnic, choose a low-cut, sunlit, patch of grass.

What to Wear

If you live in a part of the country with lots of ticks, there’s only so much you can do to avoid them. Your next level of defense is your clothes.

If you might be around ticks, you can wear:

  • Light-colored clothes, which makes it easier to spot them
  • Long pants tucked into your socks -- for more protection, you can tape the area where your pants and socks meet
  • Long-sleeve shirt
  • Boots or hiking shoes
  • Hat

What Products to Use

You can also use products with DEET or permethrin for more protection.

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DEET repels ticks, while permethrin actually kills them. Be sure to follow directions on how to use these products safely. There are also a few natural solutions that can keep ticks away.

DEET: To repel ticks, use a product with 20% to 30% DEET. You can spray it on your skin and clothes, but limit how much goes on your skin. When you come back inside, make sure to wash any areas of your body where you used it.

If you have kids, apply it for them and avoid their hands, eyes, and mouth. Some experts suggest that you don’t use DEET too often on your kids.

Permethrin: Products with 0.5% permethrin work well for ticks. You can’t use it on your skin, but you can treat your clothes and gear, such as boots, backpacks, and tents.

Permethrin will stay on your clothes for up to six washings. For longer-lasting protection, you can buy clothes already treated with the chemical, which protect you for up to 70 washings.

Natural products: If you want to avoid chemicals, two natural products have been shown to help with some ticks:

  • 2-undecanone, which comes from the leaves and stems of wild tomato plants, repels ticks, including blacklegged and lone star ticks. You can use it on your skin, clothing, and gear.
  • Mixed essential oils from rosemary, lemongrass, cedar, peppermint, thyme, and geraniol can also repel blacklegged ticks. You can use it on your skin.

When You’ve Been Around Ticks

Once you go back inside, you want to make sure you don’t have any ticks on your clothing, gear, or body.

Take a shower: Try to shower within 2 hours of coming in from the outdoors. This won’t remove ticks that are attached, but you can wash off ticks still crawling on your body. It also makes them easier to find. They can be as small as poppy seeds and easily mistaken for a fleck of dirt.

Check yourself: Next, use a mirror to check your body and your child’s, especially:

  • In hair
  • In and around the ears
  • Under the arms
  • In the belly button
  • Around the waist
  • Between the legs
  • Behind the knees

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It helps to get in the habit of checking you and your kids for ticks every day. Even the simple act of taking a shortcut through an overgrown yard can expose you to ticks.

Check everything else: Check your pets, clothes, shoes, backpacks, and any other gear, too. These could carry ticks into your house.

Take care of your clothes: Throw your clothes in the dryer on high heat for 10 minutes to kill ticks. If your clothes are wet, dry them first, then add 10 more minutes.

If you need to wash your clothes, hot water will also kill ticks.

For clothes that can’t be washed in hot water, use warm or cold water as directed. Then, make sure to dry them either on low heat for 90 minutes or high heat for 60 minutes. Make sure the clothes are totally dry and warm to the touch when you take them out.

WebMD Medical Reference Reviewed by Carol DerSarkissian on October 28, 2018

Sources

SOURCES:

CDC: “Stop Ticks,” “Preventing Tick Bites,” “Natural Repellents and Pesticides.”

Illinois Department of Public Health: “Common Ticks.”

Harvard Health Publications: “Matchless Strategy for Tick Removal -- 6 Tips to Avoid Tick Bites.”

Medscape: “Tick-Borne Disease.”

University of Rhode Island TickEncounter Resource Center: “Top Ten Things Everyone Should Know About Ticks These Days.”

State of Michigan: “Ticks and Your Health.”

Purdue University, Medical Entomology: “Ticks.”

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