Ticks are parasitic bugs that look for warm-blooded hosts, like you or your pets. A tick will attach to your skin using its mouth parts and remain there until it’s removed, which can be quite difficult because of how strongly they grip to your skin.
In the process of removing a tick, you may find that the tick’s head remains stuck under or on top of your skin. If this happens, you need to have a game plan to remove the rest of the tick safely. Let’s cover ways to do so.
Before you get started, cleanse the tick bite with rubbing alcohol so you don’t end up scraping bacteria into the area.
You can start by using tweezers to remove the tick’s head.
- Make sure that the tip of the tweezers is sterile by cleaning it with soap and hot water before using it.
- Insert the angled edge of the tweezers and firmly grasp the tick’s head. If you aren’t able to firmly grasp it, or if it’s in a place where you can’t reach it, find someone to help you.
- Pull the tick’s head up and out of your skin. A firm, straight tug is the best movement to use.
If a tweezer doesn’t work, or if you don’t have one available, you can use a sterilized needle.
- Gently use the pointed end of the needle to create a wider opening for the tick’s head. Don’t break your skin layer, just try to make the hole where the tick’s head is embedded a bit bigger.
- Try again with the tweezer to remove the tick’s head, or use the needle to take the tick’s head out if you’re able to.
Other methods of taking out a tick’s head, such as scraping with a credit card, may introduce bacteria to the area of your tick bite. So, if you’re able, stick with sterilized first aid materials (like tweezers or a needle) to protect your body from infection. Don’t try to twist or jerk a tick’s head that’s underneath your skin.
Removing a tick’s head from your pet’s skin may be a little trickier, especially if your furry friend has thick fur or hair.
- Make sure that your pet is lying down and calm. You may want to have some treats on hand, and it helps to have someone else to assist you in keeping your pet calm.
- Clean the area of the tick bite with rubbing alcohol.
- Using a sterilized tweezer, gently attempt to remove the tick’s head with steady, strong pressure as you pull outward.
- If a sterilized tweezer doesn’t work, you may also try to use a needle to widen the area of the tick bite to try to get the head out.
- If you’re not able to get the tick’s head out, call your veterinarian.
You might have gotten the whole tick with your first attempt at removing it. If you can stomach it, look at the tick to see if it’s moving its legs. If it is, the tick’s head is still attached and you got the whole thing out.
You may notice you’ve decapitated the tick in the process of removing it. The tick’s head may even still be visible partly outside your skin. If that’s the case, it’ll be easier to tell once you’ve completed the job.
You’ll know you got the tick head out if you are able to see the tick’s head on the point of the needle or the edge of your tweezers.
It’s not a pleasant thought, but it’s possible that the tick’s head will break apart under your skin. If that happens, you’ll need to gently tug under your skin’s surface to try to get all of it out. Don’t “dig” around under your skin, as that can actually spread bacteria.
Leaving a tick’s head embedded in your (or your furry friend’s) skin doesn’t increase your risk of tick-borne disease.
However, a tick’s head left embedded in your skin can increase your risk of infection. The tick’s head and mouth parts are covered in germs that you don’t want to leave inside your skin.
When your skin heals over the tick bite, it may also create a hard bump over the area where the tick’s head was.
The tick’s head may fall out by itself, or it might not. It’s best not to leave it up to chance.
In general, you should always save the body of a tick that you removed for 30 days in case it needs to be tested later on.
Ticks are wily and can sneak out of small spaces. You can suffocate a tick in a towel soaked in rubbing alcohol, and keep it in a small, sealed container (like an airtight glass jar) until the risk of any infections or complications has passed.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends never crushing a tick with your fingers.
There are some situations where, even after removing a tick, you need to seek attention from a medical professional.
Be ready to call a doctor if:
- a tick has been on a person for more than 24 hours
- the tick bite appears infected, oozing green or white discharge, or feels warm to the touch
- a rash develops on your body after the tick bite
- symptoms like joint pain, fever, or muscle stiffness develop in the days after a tick bite
The CDC says that symptoms of Lyme disease appear anywhere between 3 to 30 days after a tick bite, but on average it takes about 7 days.
If you see a tick’s head lodged under your skin, your child’s skin, or your pet’s skin, it can give you a creepy-crawly feeling. However, that doesn’t mean it’s time to panic. You will most likely be able to remove the tick’s head with a little patience.
If you aren’t able to completely remove a tick’s head, you should see a medical professional. A tick’s head left under skin doesn’t increase your risk of Lyme disease or other tick-borne illnesses, but it does increase your risk of some bacterial infections.