So you met a tick. And pulled it off. And the tick head remains – embedded in the skin. NOW WHAT? In this post, you'll learn 6 ways to remove a tick head after the body is gone.
Can you squish a tick? Get the answer, plus 16 more gross tick facts
How to Remove a Tick Head After the Body is Gone
Ticks: mother nature’s equivalent of telemarketers.
Where I live, we get them in their thousands, particularly in the long grass after it rains. And you just know my dog loves the long grass! Needless to say, I’ve had to wrangle a few of them.
I am always surprised by the strength and perseverance of a tick. For tiny little things they sure have a stronghold.
The best protection is defense (of the chemical kind), but if that’s failed as it often does, you’ve got a tick and you need to get it out.
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There are plenty of guides on the web about how to remove a whole tick; they make it sound so easy, don’t they? But all too often, you’ve followed the instructions to the letter but that darn tick head is still in there!
The first thing to do is not panic.
With the body removed (and in a ziplock bag somewhere in case a vet or doctor needs to test it for disease at a later stage), the tick is dead and they are not going to regurgitate their stomach contents into your dog or child which is what causes infection and disease transference.
Many people advise that leaving the head in is not a problem. I don’t know about you but I am not keen on my kid or dog walking around with a tick head lodged into their skin! Even if the risk of infection is low, there is a risk, and I want to get it all out.
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6 Ways to Remove a Tick Head After the Body is Gone
Here are some tried and tested methods to remove that tick head.
1. Grab the plastic
If there’s a bit of head sticking out, then there’s the option of trying to flick it out with the tip of a hard plastic card; a credit card is ideal.
You’ll need to place the corner of the credit card against the edge of the head, and then push down into the skin, imagining that you are trying to get under the end of the head and build pressure upwards in order to sweep it out.
The benefit of this method is that it will not inflame the area or cause a risk of infection so it is probably the best option to try first.
If this doesn’t work, you may need to try something slightly more invasive.
2. Treat it like a splinter
If you think about it, a tick head is embedded in the skin sort of like a splinter. It’s a bit different and a bit trickier because in theory, a splinter is a straight, smooth piece of wood, and a tick head has tiny barbs to help it remain embedded.
However, it is worth carefully having a go-to remove it, using a sterilized needle and some fine tweezers.
If you’re removing the tick from your child, chances are you know exactly what I am talking about, because you have completed this exercise a thousand times before with splinters. But if you don’t, let me talk you through it, because if possible you want to get it right the first time.
This is something you only want to try a couple of times, and if it doesn’t work, you want to admit defeat pretty soon. What you don’t want to do is start digging around the area with a needle and further inflame the area or cause infection.
- Wash the area with soap and water, to remove unwanted dirt and bacteria
- Sterilise the needle and tweezers with rubbing alcohol
- If part of the tick head is sticking out of the skin, see if you can gently pull the tick head out with tweezers. Be careful about pulling on any legs as they will just break off
- If there is nothing protruding, and the tick head is under the skin entirely, try gently piercing the skin at the point of entry and then using the needle to work out the tick head. Once a part of the tick head is showing, use the tweezers to pull it out.
As mentioned, if this doesn’t work fairly quickly, don’t continue as you could make the issue worse by infecting the area. Ensure you clean the area thoroughly with soap and water when you finish.
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3. Scalpel or razor blade
If you don’t have tweezers handy but you do have a scalpel or single razor blade, you can try to remove a tick head caught under the skin using these.
I cannot stress enough that you must be very careful when doing this, and a dull blade is best as you definitely don’t want to cut your dog or child in the process!
What you want to do is gently gather the area of skin between two fingers (don’t squeeze excessively) and then scrape the edge of the blade over the entry point of the tick head. You don’t want to cut, you want to scrape.
The purpose is to pull the top layer of skin open so that the tick head pops out and through. Tweezers are useful at this point to provide the last bit of assistance and pull the head out, but if you don’t have any, just squeeze very gently and hopefully, this will dislodge the tick head.
4. Epsom Salts
When it comes to particularly stubborn tick heads, that just don’t want to shift, or if you are looking for a less invasive way to get rid of one, Epsom salts are the answer.
Epsom salts are just so useful and can be used for so many different things. For this reason, I always keep a bag handy in the house.
The downside of using Epsom salts is that they may take a couple of days, but in my experience, they always work. Epsom salts draw out toxins from the body and they will do the same with a tick head.
To try this method, dissolve some Epsom salts in warm water. Once they are dissolved, check the temperature of the water; for children and dogs, the water should feel no more than lukewarm to you, as their skin is more delicate than adult skin.
Get some strong kitchen towel, or a clean cloth, and soak in the warm salty water. Leave this on the area as a compress for 10-15 minutes; do this at least twice daily.
If the area is on a foot or some other appendage you can also opt to submerge said appendage in a tiny salty bath. Speaking from experience, dogs do not really like this option and generally, the salty water ends up everywhere.
5. Visit your vet/doctor
If you have tried and failed to remove the tick head, you can always opt to let nature take its course and expel the tick head in its own time while monitoring the area for infection.
However, if you’re the anxious type and you’d prefer to get it out, go to the vet or doctor. After all, they are the professionals and remove foreign bodies for a living, so should be able to assist.
Although it will cost you, sometimes it is good to know that the tick head is well and truly gone, and have the reassurance that everything looks ok. If the area is infected, they can also provide topical medication or antibiotics to ensure the infection doesn’t get worse.
6. Try Tick Removal Pliers
Sawyer Products makes a tool called “tick pliers”. If you get in the undesirable situation where all that's left on the skin is its head, these pliers are worth a try.
These pliers separate the tick at the skin's surface – preventing the unfortunate injection of the tick's stomach contents into the person you're trying to remove it from.
And they have a raised edge so the tick is captured removed. These pliers work on people, cats, and dogs.
Here are 7 tips for avoiding ticks while hiking.
4 Things NOT to Do With an Embedded Tick Head
There are some things that I have done for lack of other options or following the well-meaning advice of others that I would not recommend. They are as follows:
- Don’t use bulky/square-headed tweezers – you might think that they are better than nothing, but they are not. Trying to remove a tick with bulky tweezers will go as well as asking an elephant to peel a banana. If you accidentally squeeze that fluid-filled body, guess where that fluid is going to go? That’s right, out through the mouth and into your child/dog’s body. We want to avoid that happening at all costs.
- Douse the tick head and area with petroleum jelly (or nail polish remover or kerosene) – depending on which option you choose it will either ruin your chances to get that head out or burn the sensitive skin around the area. None of these things are effective when your tick is already dead.
- Burn the tick head or the area- again, it’s dead, the only thing you are going to burn is your poor pooch or your kid.
- Dig around the area too much and irritate it further – this just makes your job ten times harder.
What to watch for once the tick head is removed
Those pesky ticks do carry a multitude of diseases, due to the fact that their raison d’etre is to consume as much blood as possible from many different hosts like a tiny, insatiable vampire.
Depending on where you live, your local ticks may carry a risk of Lyme Disease, Rocky Mountain spotted fever, southern tick-associated rash illness, tularemia, or tick bite paralysis, to name a few.
It is important to watch your child or dog for any signs that they might have been infected by the tick, including:
- muscular failure/paralysis
- change in bark (dogs only)
- loss of concentration
- any aches or pains
- any rashes
While the chances are your little darling is perfectly fine, many of the tick diseases are nasty and need to be addressed swiftly if an infection does occur.
Finally, always remember that prevention is better than cure. At the height of tick season, make sure that:
- your dog is treated with a reputable tick preventative
- if going into tick-prone areas (like long grass!), your family is appropriately dressed so as to minimize tick access to skin, and that they are wearing bug repellent, ideally with DEET in it.
If you follow these steps then you greatly minimize the chances that you will have to wrestle another nasty tick from someone’s ear, leg or backside.
But even with all the preparation in the world, make sure you regularly check everyone, man or beast, for the presence of ticks. The sooner they are off the lower the risk of disease transference!
Want to avoid tick bites? Here are the 5 best tick repellents for humans.
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How do you handle ticks? Have a question about removing a tick head with nobody? Join me in the comments!
Bryan Haines is a co-founder and blogger on GudGear – and is working to make it the best resource for outside gear. He is a travel blogger at Storyteller.Travel and photographer at Click Like This. He is also co-founder of Storyteller Media, a company he started with his wife, Dena.