Tick bites can be dangerous, so it’s important that you do your best to protect yourself from these little parasites. At the same time, being bitten by a Tick does not necessarily mean that you are going to get a terrible disease.
As a lot of the Highly Sensitive Nomad community love being outdoors and with animals, I thought it would be a good idea to write this guide to dealing with ticks and their bites!
It’s Raining Ticks
When I was staying in Arkansas, the ticks used to fall out of the trees like rain. At the end of each day I would pick them out of my armpits, toes and bum crack in their tens. (Sorry if that’s TMI, but I lived to tell the tale.)
Since then, I have become much less squeamish about ticks in general.
Having traveled and wild camped all around the world, I am quite used to removing them from myself, as well as hunting the blood fattened parasites on the skin of dogs and horses.
My absolute record was pulling 85 ticks off of a horse in France. He was groaning with pleasure as I added each tick to the bucket at my feet, using his nose to point to each place on his body where there was another one. Since that day he became my best buddy and followed me faithfully around the farm, and always made himself known when he had another tick that needed to be dealt with!
Belly swollen with blood, they always remind me of plump little grapes. Don’t worry, you will probably find and get rid of a tick long before they get to this stage.
Here is some advice to help you deal with ticks on your outdoor adventures!
Preventing Tick Bites
The best way to deal with ticks is to prevent them all together.
They often start on your legs and then make their way up into warm dark crevices (groins, bum cracks and armpits are their favorite places.)
One way to prevent them is to wear long trousers rather than shorts, then tuck the end of your trousers into long socks. Some people also put tape over the seam where the trousers are tucked into socks, particularly in countries where the tick borne diseases are especially dangerous. This makes it harder for them to crawl up your legs.
Tucking a long sleeved t-shirt into your trousers does the same thing, creating less places where they can get beneath your clothes. The lighter your clothes, the easier it is for you to spot them and brush them off before they bite.
A tick bite isn’t painful like a bee sting, by the way. You might not even notice they are biting you, which is why it’s so important to give yourself a once over once you’re hunkered down in your tent or bathroom back home.
You can spray your clothes with a tick repellant before wearing them, but most tick repellents are not suitable to be sprayed directly onto your skin. For the sake of the planet, buy a DEET free formula like this.
If you’ve been in a tick-heavy area, you should immediately wash and tumble dry your clothes on a high heat which will kill them.
Ticks often hang out in long grass, waiting for a nice juicy deer to brush past and pick them up. If possible, avoid walking in long grass.
As a woman, going for an outdoor wee can also be problematic as you expose more of your skin and crouch lower to the ground. Make sure your private parts don’t come into contact with any long grass sister!
Removing a tick from yourself
If you do get a tick, then you need to remove it.
If you don’t notice that the tick is biting you it will quickly fill up with blood and fall off on its own after a few days. But the quicker you take it off, the less likely that it will transmit any infections such as Lyme disease.
Make sure you check your whole body after hiking or camping in an area where there might be ticks. Pay special attention to your groin and armpits. It’s obviously easier to see them if you are shaved, but otherwise just have a very thorough check.
(If you have a willing victim, ask them to check your back and bum for you too. )
Ticks are usually very small when they first bite you, but they quickly get bigger as they enjoy an all you can eat buffet on your blood. They will probably start off a couple of millimetres long and look like a black or grey spot.
When you look closer, you will see that you are in fact being feasted on.
You can buy little gadgets to remove ticks, but a pair of tweezers works fine, or even your fingers if you get hold of it very close to where it is biting you. You gently twist it until it releases. Don’t just pull it off or it will leave its head behind which could get infected.
You want to twist it right at the head, slowly enough so that it eventually decides that coming off is easier than staying put!
Afterwards you should wash the area, and you can pop on some vaseline if it helps with itching.
You then either throw the tick far away from where you are camping/hanging out, or you can burn it with a lighter. If at home, you can flush it down the toilet. You won’t be able to kill it by stamping on it though, trust me.
Never attempt to burn a tick off of you or your pet when it is still biting. This causes them to vomit their stomach contents inside of you/your animal. Nice!
How to know if you have Lyme Disease
Some ticks carry diseases. In the UK, for example, it is possible that being bitten by a tick could give you Lyme Disease.
This is a particular risk in The Scottish Highlands, Exmoor, the New Forest and the Yorkshire Moors.
Not all ticks carry the disease, so don’t panic. Like I said before, I have been bitten literally hundreds of times and I am absolutely fine. Depending on the area you are in, the rate of ticks carrying Lyme Diseases varies from 0 to 20%. In Europe the risk is higher than in the UK.
But Lyme Disease is serious.
It can start of with :
- symptoms of flu
- high fever
- muscle aches and pains
Later on it can get even more serious, causing problems like arthritis, nerve damage and chronic pain. People can go for years without realizing that they have this disease because the effects are often delayed, coming much later than the tick bite.
You can get a blood test to discover if you have Lyme disease, but it can’t be measured until a couple of weeks after infection. For this reason, many doctors will just treat you with antibiotics if there is any doubt.
For example, if you have been bitten by a tick and see the typical ‘target’ rash that develops, you should be treated with antibiotics. If your doctor does not agree with your concerns, I recommend that you ask for a second opinion.
Lyme disease is curable.
If caught early enough, you can usually cure it with a simple course of antibiotics. Even if you aren’t treated, sometimes Lyme disease will eventually go away on its own. The problem with this, is the longer you have the disease, the more serious the effects can be.
The damage done can’t always be cured, even after the disease has gone.
So if you have any doubt, go to the doctor! Ask for antibiotics, and put your mind at rest.
Preventing and removing ticks on your pets
Your pets are just as likely (if not more likely) to pick up ticks in the great outdoors. Not only can these spread to people later on, but they can also cause illnesses like Lyme’s Diseases in your much loved animals too.
Horses love rolling in the long grass where ticks live, and dogs can pick them up easily as they are closer to the ground.
For dogs or cats, I recommend getting a tick, lice and flea prevention collar. The high quality ones cost about £30 and last for up to 8 months. For horses, you can prevent ticks by spraying them with an equine tick repellent. This one is organic and vegan, hooray!
Do not use tick collars meant for dogs on cats or vise versa! Some of the ingredients used for one of the animals can be toxic for the other.
Obviously, you need to make sure your horse is desensitized to spraying or you could freak it out, and get yourself squished.
You will normally find ticks in the armpits of dogs and cats, but they can be found anywhere. Have a look on the underside of floppy ears too! On horses, I most commonly find them beneath the chin or around the sheath area.
It can be hard to see them thanks to the fur, so you need to take the time to feel all over their skin with your hands, gently brushing your hands against the flow of the hair with your hands. They will often feel like a little wart, but do double check that it isn’t just a growth before you try and pull it off!
Remove it the same way that you would remove it from yourself. Hold it close to the head and gently twist until it releases.
Don’t worry about ticks biting you whilst you do this. I have done it with my hands on thousands of ticks and they are too preoccupied to bite you. If you keep hold of them near the head after removing, they can’t get you even if they tried.
Dogs, horses and cats can get Lyme disease, just like humans.
The symptoms can include depression, lameness, fever, pain and swollen lymph nodes. Talk to your vet if you have any doubts.
Why are ticks really bad some years?
People often wonder why some years are particularly bad for ticks.
It depends on a few things, but a mild winter usually means you can expect a lot more ticks the following year. They tend to thrive in the warmer conditions and can emerge a lot earlier.
A warming climate means that ticks and their related diseases are only going to get more prevalent.
I hope you found this guide to ticks useful! Wishing you many happy adventures in the great outdoors!
You might also like to read:
- A Complete Beginner’s Guide to Wild Camping
- Vegan Wild Camping Food
- Full-Time Vanlife As a Couple (Uncensored!)
I also run A Highly Sensitive Book Club for sensitive people with a love for the written word!
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