A tick is part of the arachnid family, which also includes mites, spiders, and scorpions. A tick attaches itself to the skin of an animal and sucks blood. There are hundreds of kinds of ticks on the planet, and they can be found almost everywhere. The two types of ticks that many people talk about are the deer tick and the dog tick.
The deer tick is about the same size as the head of a pin, and it is found in many parts of the United States. One of the diseases that deer ticks can carry is Lyme disease, especially in New England and parts of the Midwest. (Lyme disease gets its name from the place where it was discovered — Lyme, Connecticut, which is in New England.)
Dog ticks are very common and can be up to 1/2 inch long. If you have a dog, chances are pretty good that you've seen a dog tick on its coat. One disease that this type of tick can carry is called Rocky Mountain spotted fever.
What a Tick Bite Looks and Feels Like
A person who gets bitten by a tick usually won't feel anything at all. There might be a little redness around the area of the bite. If you think you've been bitten by a tick, tell an adult immediately. Some ticks carry diseases (such as Lyme disease or Rocky Mountain spotted fever) and can pass them to people.
What You Should Do
Your parent or another responsible adult should check you for ticks after you've been playing or hiking in the woods, especially on your head (including your scalp), back, neck, armpits, and groin area. If you ever find a tick on you, ask for an adult's help in removing it. Using tweezers, an adult should grab the tick as close as possible to your skin, and pull the tick off in one motion. Don't cover the tick with petroleum jelly, fingernail polish, or any other substance, since these don't help the tick come out and can make things more complicated.
If part of the tick stays in your skin, don't worry — it will eventually come out. But you should tell a parent if you notice any irritation in the area. Once the tick is removed, your parent may want to put the tick in a small container or zip-locked bag to show to your doctor.
What a Doctor Will Do
Doctors don't need to treat most tick bites. But if the tick was carrying Lyme disease or Rocky Mountain spotted fever and passed it on, any symptoms that might mean you are sick will be treated with antibiotics. Your doctor might ask to see the tick to help make a diagnosis. If these diseases are treated early on, it's rare for there to be any lasting changes to a person's health.
How to Avoid Getting Bitten
Ticks like spending time in shrubbery, where they can remain close to the ground in order to jump on people or animals that pass by. If you are hiking in the woods, wear long sleeves and long pants, and tuck your pants into your socks. Wearing an insect repellent also might help. Have your parents apply one that contains 10% to 30% DEET.
Dogs are also very good at picking up ticks in their coats, so ask an adult to help you bathe your dog with a tick shampoo and give your dog a tick collar.
Reviewed by: Elana Pearl Ben-Joseph, MD
Date reviewed: May 2010