Wilderness First Aid Q&A

Learn how to remove a tick

Q: Any suggestions for removing a tick?

A:  Let’s face it:  Ticks are no fun.  You might even say, “They really bite!”  The mouthparts on these little critters are barbed, so once they get a good bite, they are tough to remove.  Some ticks even secrete a cement-like material that helps them to adhere to the skin better.  Now, that’s a sticky situation!

Laboratory studies have shown that in Lyme disease, for example, the longer a tick is attached to the skin, the greater the risk of transmission of the disease.  The good news is that some ticks can be on human skin for 1 to 2 hours before attachment even takes place.  For this reason, close and regular inspection of ALL BODY PARTS should be performed when traveling in tick-infested areas.  Protective clothing (for example, long pants cinched at the ankles or tucked into boots or socks) is also helpful for keeping ticks off your skin.  Spraying clothes with an insect repellent may also provide some additional protection. Any loose ticks can be removed with duct tape or the edge of a credit card.

If you find an attached tick, however, get ready to remove it as soon as possible. Why the sense of urgency? Because quick and correct removal of attached ticks — ideally, within 24 hours of attachment! — can greatly reduce the likelihood of disease transmission from tick to human.

Know that improper removal of a tick can lead to a “host” of problems (blood-sucking joke fully intended!).  You see, any tick parts left behind in the skin can lead to a foreign body reaction in which your body’s own immune system revs up and tries to fight off the intruding tick parts.  The problem, here, is that the inflammation that follows can allow for infections to set-in more easily.

So, here is a great way to remove an attached tick safely, directly, and effectively:

1.  Always start by washing your hands.

2.  “Glove-up” if possible.  Don’t worry, though, because you will not be touching the tick directly.  Doing so might allow the tick to bite you — duh!

3.  Get a quality pair of fine-tipped forceps.  Don’t waste your money on expensive tick-removal kits.  A good pair of forceps does an excellent job and comes in handy for other medical emergencies, as well.

4.  With your forceps, grab the attached tick as close to the skin (i.e., as far up on the tick’s head) as possible.

5.  Gently pull the tick out counter to the direction that the mouth parts entered the skin.  In other words, back the tick out in reverse!  Use a steady, constant motion, and move in a straight line, being careful not to twist, jerk, or turn the forceps.  Also, be careful not to squeeze the tick’s body too much because doing so might squeeze tick guts and contents all over the area.  Yuck!

6.  Once you remove it, consider saving the tick in a sealable container for identification purposes.

7.  Next, cleanse the skin with an antiseptic or soap and water.  You can also apply an antibiotic ointment if you have one.

8.  Wash your hands and go about the rest of your day.

Avoid using “home remedy” methods of tick removal, such as rubbing fingernail polish or vaseline petrolatum, using rubbing alcohol, or applying a hot extinguished match directly to the tick.  In general, these methods do not result in tick detachment.  More importantly, some of these methods may actually induce the tick to salivate (drool!) or regurgitate (puke!) into the wound.  Double yuck!

Now, get out there and remove some ticks!

Comments about “Learn how to remove a tick”

  1. anthony says:

    please be smart and read about ticks and the danger of removing ticks.
    touching the tick with anything can excite the tick and cause it to regurgitate it’s infectious disease back into it’s host. before attempting to remove it, kill it instantley with one spray of Arctick, then you can remove the tick safely with tweezers.

  2. anthony says:

    the tweezers are the best method for removal, however i found a new product that is 100% safe and 100% effective in killing the tick on contact, along with all of the infectious disease it carries, BEFORE YOU ATTEMPT TO REMOVE THE TICK, it’s better to be safe THEN SORRY, i use the product called Arctick and i use it on my pet as well. the sooner you remove the tick from you or your pet the better.

  3. Claymores says:

    Which way do you need to turn the forceps to unscrew the tick from the skin?

  4. caw says:

    I am not a scout but I have been bit by a tick. First you make the tick ‘drunk’ with an alcohol pad. then you remove it with tweesers

  5. teehee says:

    i’ve never had a tick on me, but burning it wouldn’t be my first choice if i did

  6. Bronco25 says:

    I’ve had good luck with petroleum jelly, and I’ve had it not work. When it doesn’t work, a slow steady pull seems to work best.

  7. jeepfan says:

    i heard that putting a dab of handsoap on it and leave for several minutes will easily remove the tick.

  8. TheEagleScout says:

    A simple way to remove a tick is to apply some rubbing alcohol to a paper towel and rub it against the tick, the rubbing alcohol makes removing the tick with tweezers very easy. Ticks can be hard to kill so make sure that the tick is fully dead or it could attack somone else

  9. ScouterDoc says:

    I am a Scoutmaster physician living in the northcentral US in an area with lots of deer ticks (and I have removed many). I do things a bit differently after having left many mouth parts in the skin using the above technique. I actually like to have two pairs of forceps. Gently pulling up on the body with the first pair generally allows me to grab the mouth parts lower. At this point, I find gently twisting (give it 1-2 full turns) will cause the tick to release its mouth parts. You can usually remove them alive this way. I agree there is not really a need for the tick removal kits. Spraying clothes with permethrin is the most effective way to prevent tick bites (and it stays on your clothes for up to 5 washings). DEET is ineffective against most ticks. Only the wood (dog) ticks make the cement mentioned above – they are usually simple to remove without even using forceps.

  10. troop.109 says:

    put petroleum jelly over the tick and its head will release
    then you just scrape off the jelly with the tick inside
    just be sure to use lots of jelly

  11. scottman says:

    use a lighter and burn it

  12. Troop.13 says:

    Get a pair o tweeser and grab its head and pull it out by the head

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  • Dr. Andrew C. Krakowski is the host of the boonDOCS Wilderness & Travel Medicine show on Outdoor Channel. He is the founder of the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine's wilderness medicine program and currently works in the field of pediatric dermatology at the Rady Children's Hospital in San Diego.

    Dr. K loves the outdoors and believes that knowledge, adaptability, and experience are essential for being prepared in the wilderness.