Itching Won't Tell You If You Have a Tick Bite

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If you love to hike, camp and generally spend time outdoors, summertime likely has you prepared to fend off sunburns and mosquito bites. But if your outdoor adventures include extended time in wooded areas where ticks are prevalent, you’ll definitely want to be on-guard for these blood-seeking bugs, as their bites could spread Lyme disease. This may leave you wondering: how can you know if you’ve sustained tick bites? Specifically, do tick bites itch?

Tick bites don’t tend to itch initially, according to Brian Kim, MD, co-director at the Center for the Study of Itch at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis. “But subsequently, they can itch after they enter the skin,” he says.

That's not always a good thing. “Tick bites are often completely asymptomatic and you may not even feel the bite when it happens,” adds Joshua Zeichner, MD, an associate professor in the department of dermatology and the director of cosmetic and clinical research at the Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City. “Many patients find ticks attached to their skin and do not even realize that they are there.”

Tick bites aren’t simply a nuisance. If ticks transmit Lyme disease (only certain types of ticks do) you could end up with severe and long-lasting symptoms like joint pain and neurological problems. You might even develop an allergy to meat (find out more about that curious link here). Other common, but less serious, symptoms and side effects include rash, fever, chills, fatigue, body aches, headache, neck stiffness and swollen lymph nodes.

If you experience flu-like symptoms and/or the telltale bulls-eye rash that points to Lyme, you should definitely seek medical attention ASAP. The "telltale" bulls-eye rash, however, isn't always so telltale—sometimes it looks a little different. The CDC has a helpful, if fairly graphic, page of photos of different ways that rash can look. It doesn't mean you should diagnose yourself from that page, but it's useful to see how many different ways this rash can present itself. Depending on your symptoms, your doctor may want to perform certain lab tests, or they may start you on antibiotics right away if it’s apparent you have Lyme. If caught early, it can clear up within a few weeks.

Photo credit: Men's Health

Some ticks are extremely small and hard to spot, which makes it even more difficult to determine if you’ve been bitten if the bite doesn’t itch. Do a thorough, full-body tick search once you return to your home base. And before you go out, take steps to prevent tick bites, including using tick repellent on your body or a product called permethrin on your clothes (discover why it's so great against ticks here). Dr. Zeichner also strongly advises wearing long pants and long sleeves to keep ticks and other insects from biting you.

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