Frequently Asked Questions : Get TickSmart! Use our TickSmart categories to find appropriate links to additional content in TERC.

Tick Bites

Ticks Crawl Up!

1. How do ticks bite without you feeling it?

TERC Answer: Because ticks stay attached to hosts, blood feeding for several days, they secrete novel pain killers, called kininases, in their saliva which help them go unnoticed. If you have been bitten previously, you may notice a small red bite mark, which can be itchy. If there is no tick at such a site, you may have already scratched it off without knowing it.

2. Is there a lab that I can send a tick to to see if it was carring Lyme disease prior to treating myself with the long series of antibiotics? I was bit 17 days ago and have saved the tick. J. C., Middletown, Rhode Island

TERC Answer: We have a number of places listed on our Tick Testing page. You can use our Tick Identification Chart to confirm that your tick is an adult deer tick. Deer ticks are the only tick species that transmit Lyme bacteria locally.

3. The tick biting me was nearly completely embedded under my skin. Does my doctor need to remove it?

TERC Answer: Ticks can only penetrate your skin with their hypostome. Their bodies are never embedded under the skin. Don't wait to see a doctor to remove a biting tick. It is easy to remove a tick safely by using a pointy tweezers. Don't worry if the head stays in, just disinfect the area with rubbing alcohol. You also might want to consider identifying and testing the tick for infection.

Related links:

Images from Stuff You Should Know podcast on ticks: Capitulum, Mouth parts, Palps, Chelicerae, Hypostome

4. If I find a tick biting me, should I cover it with Vaseline or touch it with a hot match to get it to detach?

TERC Answer: No! These methods were once believed to be best years ago. Now we know that the safest way to remove a tick includes wiping it with rubbing alcohol to disinfect the affected area, and then remove the tick with a pointy tweezer.

Related links:

How not to remove a tick article

5. If I rarely go outside, and never go in the woods, how did the tick biting me find me?

TERC Answer: First, you should know that Blacklegged ticks don't travel very far on their own, perhaps only one or 2 meters. However, they do get moved around by animals, and pets, particularly cats, are notorious for picking up a tick outside and then bringing it inside to humans. If the tick attaches to your cat or dog, it will not typically leave it, but if the animal comes inside or you pick it up, loose ticks crawling on the animals fur can easily transfer over to you. One helpful suggestion may be to make your cat an inside cat during the tick season.

Related links:

Tick control products for your pets
Containment ideas for your yard, keeping them out of tick habitat

6. I was bitten by a tick recently and now there is a big red spot. Should I be worried?

Answer: It depends on how recently. Within 3 days of being bitten by a tick, many people will develop a red spot that never expands to bigger than a dime. This is just an allergic reaction to the saliva that the tick is spitting into you. Watch the site, however. If the red spot grows in size over a period of a week or so, to bigger than two inches, then it is likely to be a sign that you are infected with the Lyme disease agent.

7. Is it possible for a tick to become embedded in a person's scalp so deep that there is no lump there? J.P.

TERC Answer: No! Ticks can only embed their hypostome or mouthpart into the skin. Their palps, which cover the hypostome to protect it when the tick is not feeding, fold back and prevent the tick from going any further into your skin. Refer to www.tickencounter.org and click on learn, then tick-biteology and look at slide 1 for a graphic on just how deep ticks can become embedded.

8. I just pulled a corn kernel looking tick off my 3 month old yorkshire terrier puppy, should I take her to the vet? I don't know how long the tick has latched onto her, but it might have been a couple of hours ago.

TERC Answer: During the Fall and early Spring in the northeast, mid-Atlantic and upper mid-west, ticks that look like a "corn kernel" are most likely to be partially engorged female deer ticks -- most likely attached for about 3 days to look like a corn kernel. Their body generally looks pale at this stage and they have not started to swell up big.

If the dog has the Lyme disease vaccine, you are probably fine. However, 3 days is long enough for a deer tick to begin transmitting Lyme bacteria and the agent of anaplasmosis. If not vaccinated, you could give your vet a call and see if they will take any prophylactic measures.

9. Today I pulled out a dog tick out of my scalp. It was relatively easy to pull out as I only used my fingers to slide it out of my hair. At first, I did not know what that is, of course. After looking at it and comparing it to pictures and descriptions I determined it is a dog tick possibly adult, but fairly flat. Can this type of tick transfer any disease? If yes, how long does it need to feed in order to infect a person? Like I said, the tick I pulled out does not appear to had been feeding very long. Aneta, North Aurora, IL

TERC Answer: American dog ticks can be infected with Rocky Mtn Spotted Fever rickettsia, other less pathogenic rickettsia, Colorado Tick Fever virus, and rarely, with the agent of tularemia. However, in your geographic area, the dog tick infection rate is quite low for Rocky Mtn Spotted Fever and the other pathogens are not known to circulate there either. Hopefully, the only concern is a bit of a tick bite.

10. Sunday May 6th I went on a butterfly hunt with a small group of people from local parks. On Monday I discovered bumps and pimple like sores on my scalp. I've been getting these all week. I have went to the E.R. and 1 doctors and 2 dermatologists who knew almost nothing about ticks. None of these people have really looked close at these sores I have, to see if any of the Tick is enlodged in the sore, let alone if there is a red ring around it! I live alone and have noone that can really look that close. I feel like I'm in the twilite zone and no one cares. I took a salt water bath and scrubed and shook my hair around and found a couple tick like bugs in my bath water on thursday. Last Sunday was the first time I even seen a tick let alone had one on me. Colleen, Whitehouse, Ohio

TERC Answer: While it sounds like you are frustrated with the attention of your doctor and dermatologists, we are pretty sure that if there were ticks attached, they would see them. While the bad thing about ticks is that they bite, steal blood, and sometimes transmit pathogens, perhaps the only good thing about them is that they are indeed ectoparasites and they stay on the outside of your skin (except for their hypostome or "mouth-part").

This time of year, the blackflies may already be out in your area; some species will land around your head and bite, leaving a itchy bump that can remain for several days to a few weeks. Another biting fly, called no-see-ums, does something similar but the bump/itch usually only lasts a day.

If you are used to taking anti-histamine, that can sometimes provide relief from biting fly bites. We hope by now your bumps are resolved. It's always good to check out bumps on the head to see if there is a tick attached. But it is likely that someone would easily see it.

Related links:

A tick with wings?

Disclaimer: TickEncounter Resource Center FAQ answers come from a variety of expert sources, including Dr. Mather’s nearly 30 years of active tick research and study of tick-borne disease prevention. Our mission is to engage, educate and empower people to take tick bite protection and disease prevention actions. TERC staff are not medical doctors and do not diagnose tick-borne disease or make treatment recommendations. If you are experiencing disease symptoms, please consult a knowledgeable medical doctor to determine treatment methods best for your situation.