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Ask the Expert: Ticks – Tips & Tricks

August 12, 2016

We’re right in the thick of summer now and for the outdoorsy families out there, ticks can be a big concern. Our friends at Nemours are back with another “Ask the Expert” piece from Villanova-based Nemours pediatrician Dr. Michelle Karten. Don’t let ticks get you down this summer. Learn more about identification, prevention and treatment in this week’s post. We are certainly breathing easier now that we’re armed with such great information!

For many kids, summertime means playing in the grass, hiking through the woods, and climbing trees. It can also mean the appearance of summer pests, like ticks. As a primary care pediatrician, I get plenty of calls from parents asking what to do when their child is bitten by a tick and whether their child should be tested for Lyme disease as a result. While ticks can carry illnesses, don’t panic if you see a tick on your child. Follow these simple tips to prevent tick bites and deal with them when they happen (and they will happen…).

How to Prevent Tick Bites
Protect your kids from ticks while they enjoy the great outdoors. Make sure they:

Wear the right clothes.

  • Encourage dressing in light-weight pants and long-sleeved shirts — covering up skin helps prevent ticks from attaching.
  • Tuck shirts into pants, and pants into shoes.
  • Wear socks and shoes when walking on grass.
  • Wear hats to cover your head.
  • If you think your kids may be too overheated in the longer clothing, be sure to use repellent.

Use insect repellent.

  • Products containing 10% to 30% DEET concentration offer the best protection.
  • For those who prefer repellents that don’t contain DEET, products containing picaridin and oil of lemon eucalyptus are also good options. Picaridin is available in concentrations of 5% to 10%, and oil of lemon eucalyptus can be used on children over the age of 3 (but it doesn’t last as long as products containing DEET or picaridin).
  • Follow the instructions on the container when applying repellent.
  • Avoid spraying directly onto your child’s face and hands.
  • Make sure to wash your hands and your kid’s hands after applying.
  • Do not use insect repellent on infants younger than 2 months of age.

Perform tick checks every day.

  • Shower soon after coming indoors to wash off any unattached ticks.
  • Check the entire body for ticks. Some important spots to check are under the arms, inside the belly button, back of the knees, between the legs, and around the waist. Take care to check your child’s head in and around the ears and hair.
  1. Check or wash clothing.
  • Ticks can attach to clothing and be carried inside with you.
  • Put clothes in the dryer on high heat for 10 minutes to kill ticks.
  • If clothes need to be washed, use hot water — cold and medium temperatures won’t kill ticks as effectively.

Want to be extra careful about avoiding the creepy little critters? Wear gloves when gardening, stay in the center of hiking trail, and avoid woody areas with high grass. Treat boots and clothing with products containing permethrin to kill ticks.

What to Do When You Find a Tick:

Performing daily tick checks is important, even if you’ve taken the right precautions. If a tick does manage to attach onto your kiddo, you’ll want to quickly remove it. To do this:

  • Remove it by using tweezers to pinch the tick from its head, next to your child’s skin.
  • Pull back firmly until the tick is completely detached from the skin. Avoid jerking or twisting as you pull.
  • Place the tick into a bag or jar to hold onto for later identification if necessary. It’s OK if some of the tick remains, as it will eventually come out on its own.
  • Wash and clean the area of skin with soap and water.
  • Do not use a lit match or petroleum jelly to remove the tick – these methods are ineffective and may just cause the tick to burrow further into the skin.

When to Seek Medical Attention

Some ticks can carry illnesses like Lyme disease or Rocky Mountain spotted fever. When ticks are removed within 24 to 48 hours, the chances of a disease being transmitted are lower. If you believe the tick has been on your child for more than 24 hours, call your child’s doctor. Also call if you notice:

  • flu-like symptoms such as fever, headache, fatigue, muscle and joint aches
  • red dots on the ankles and wrists
  • a red rash that appears in a bull’s-eye shape at the site of the tick bite

Above all, don’t let a fear of ticks discourage you or your children from getting outside and exploring the many wonderful parks, gardens and natural areas in and around your town!

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Dr. Michelle Karten, MD, is a primary care pediatrician at Nemours duPont Pediatrics, Villanova in Villanova, Pa.