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What to Watch for After a Tick Bite

With spring and summer comes more sunshine, more time spent outdoors – and more bug bites. When we expose our skin in spring and summer attire, mosquitos, ticks, and other critters looking for their next meal take notice.

Usually, bug bites are more of an annoyance than anything else, however, tick bites are different. Ticks carry many diseases, including Lyme disease. Without early treatment, Lyme disease can lead to painful, life-altering symptoms that affect your joints, heart, nervous system, and more.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention ranks Pennsylvania as highly endemic for Lyme disease, with tick activity peaking in April and lasting through the summer months. Take a moment now to learn what to watch for after a tick bite and when to seek treatment.

How do tick bites happen?

Ticks are small, spider-like creatures that like to climb onto you as you brush past plants, bushes, grasses, and other foliage. There are about 850 different types of ticks – some are as large as a pencil eraser, while others are so tiny that they’re practically invisible. Common types of ticks in Pennsylvania include the blacklegged tick, the American Dog tick, the Lone Star tick, and more.

Once a tick lands on you, it typically moves to a warm, moist place on your body (such as your scalp, armpits, or groin). It then attaches firmly to your skin and begins to draw blood. The tick will feed on your blood anywhere from a few days to a few weeks, then fall off once it’s full. Here’s the kicker: you likely won’t feel any of it happening.

What does a tick bite look like?

Without the (six or eight-legged) evidence attached to your skin, identifying a tick bite is trickier. At first, a tick bite typically looks like a small, hard bump – similar to a mosquito bite or even a pimple. It can be raised or flat. You may also experience redness, itchiness, swelling, or slight bleeding where the bite occurred. (FYI, a tick bite doesn’t usually contain pus or other fluid unless it’s infected.)

If you find the tick while it’s still feeding, mystery solved! A vybe clinician can safely remove the tick for you. Or you can do it yourself, using tweezers to grasp the tick as close to your skin as possible. Pull up gently but firmly. Do not squeeze or crush the body of the tick, as fluids from the tick can cause infection. Pack up the tick in a sealed container or bag, clean the bite area thoroughly with soap and water, then head to vybe for evaluation and any necessary treatment.

How soon after a tick bite will symptoms appear?

The bump usually takes just a few days to develop. Be sure to watch for any symptoms of tick-borne diseases in the weeks after a tick bite, especially the “bullseye rash” associated with Lyme disease. Not all tick bites leave this signature rash – however, early symptoms of Lyme disease tend to begin in a month or less.

Your rash will likely be a single circle that slowly spreads from where the tick bite occurred, with or without rings around it. During this time, you may also experience:

  • Headache
  • Fever
  • Fatigue
  • Joint stiffness
  • Muscle pain
  • Swollen lymph nodes

Left untreated, Lyme disease worsens over time. Months later, your late-stage symptoms could include:

  • Severe joint, nerve, or muscle pain
  • Heart palpitations or irregular heartbeat
  • Dizziness or shortness of breath
  • Loss of muscle tone on one or both sides of the face
  • Inflammation of the brain or spinal cord
  • Numbness or tingling in the hands or feet
  • Short-term memory loss

It’s important to visit your local vybe right away after a tick bite, so we can perform an evaluation and provide you with a treatment plan to stop the progression of Lyme disease.

Is it normal for tick bites to itch?

Despite a sometimes reddish appearance, tick bites do not usually hurt or itch. If yours does, know that itching is not an early sign of Lyme disease – it’s usually just a consequence of skin irritation after the bite.

Itchiness after a tick bite can last for days or even weeks. If you experience severe itchiness, it could be an allergic reaction – vybe treats those as well.

How long will it take for my tick bite to heal?

Most tick bites take about two weeks to heal, and any redness should go away even faster (usually just a day or two). You might develop a small scab where the puncture occurred. Applying Neosporin or another over-the-counter antibiotic ointment can help speed up the healing process.

If you don’t get sick or develop a rash after a tick bite, you likely won’t need antibiotics. However, in areas that are highly endemic for Lyme disease, antibiotics are sometimes used after high-risk tick bites. Ask your vybe clinician if antibiotics are recommended for you.

Should I go to urgent care for a tick bite?

When it comes to Lyme disease, time is of the essence. If you develop a rash at or near the site of the tick bite or anywhere else on your body – especially one with a bullseye pattern – visit your nearest vybe right away. Even if the rash disappears, you could still be at risk.

You should also seek medical help if you develop any flu-like symptoms after the bite, such as fever, chills, fatigue, or muscle or joint pain. Oozing pus or fluid, pain where the bite occurred, or changes in skin color are signs that your tick bite may be infected.

Did you try to remove the tick yourself with no luck? A tick usually has to be attached for 2-3 days before it can transmit Lyme disease, so removing the tick within that timeframe is ideal. If you still have part of the tick left on your skin, head to your local vybe ASAP.

vybe offers a full range of urgent care services, from treating illnesses and injuries (including tick bites) to providing lab tests, screenings, vaccinations, and more. We’re open seven days a week with extended weekday hours.