I don’t remember ever getting a tick growing up. But at our house, we get ticks on us almost every single time we go outside in the spring or fall. Literally. No ticks is a rare occasion. After knowing several people with Lyme disease, the commonness of deer ticks in our yard gives me the heebie jeebies.
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The typical advice for avoiding tick bites & diseases? Don’t walk in high grass, spray yourself with DEET insect repellent, wear clothing treated with permethrin, and then check yourself after coming in. If you have a tick bite, get on antibiotics pronto.
However, our property has ticks everywhere- not just in high grass. And while I think it’s unlikely that the occasional use of bug spray and insecticides will kill you, it’s certainly not something I want to rub on my kids or wear on a daily basis. (See here and here for some reasons why.) Same with antibiotics- I am all for using them judiciously as needed- but can we be on them almost constantly without health repercussions? Certainly not.
Thankfully, we have found some alternative tick prevention methods over the past year or so that have proved to be fairly effective- without the theoretical risks and worries that come with regular chemical application. Here are some of the methods we use:
1) Homemade anti-tick spray: I don’t know where this recipe originally came from, but thank you to whoever published it! You will need:
- 2 C white vinegar.
- 1 C water.
- 10 drops of eucalyptus, peppermint, OR citrus essential oil. All of these serve as a tick repellent. (I like orange, personally.)
- 10 drops tea tree essential oil (another tick repellent- plus it’s antibacterial).
Mix all ingredients in a spray bottle and apply to clothing and skin before going outside- particularly to the socks and pants. It’s a little stinky, but no worse than bug spray- and it doesn’t have the same toxicity concerns.
2) Look dorky. Wear sneakers instead of flip-flops. Tuck your pants into your socks. You might look silly, but it will keep ticks from crawling up your legs. Just a thought.
3) Get chickens. If you have a tick problem in your yard, consider getting a few chickens. Besides all the other awesome reasons to have them around, they are also great at reducing the tick population. Last spring, without chickens, we were overrun with deer ticks. This spring, with a small flock, I have only found one so far. Obviously, it’s too soon to tell whether it was the chickens or just a different year, but I’ll take anything that helps.
UPDATE: We do still get ticks, even with chickens, so maybe it was just the year. However, I know that chickens like to eat ticks, and anything helps– so I’m keeping ’em.
4) Do a tick check. Every night during tick season, we do a full check of ourselves and our kids. Even if you do have a tick bite, catching it quickly is key to avoiding tick-transmitted diseases. So scan everywhere on your body- particularly in armpits, behind the ears, in your hair, and other hard to see places. Showering soon after coming inside can help rinse off any non-attached ticks. These guys can be really tiny, so do be thorough.
If you DO get a tick bite:
1) Remove it quickly. You can find instructions for removing ticks with tweezers, but I have always been nervous about accidentally leaving the head in. I personally like using the Ticked Off tool, because it’s simple and I’ve never had a problem with severing the tick. It’s cheap too.
UPDATE: We have had a few ticks break when using the Ticked Off tool. We’ve since switched back to tweezers, but will still occasionally get a head stuck in the skin. We just purchased these fine-pointed tweezers for hopes of a better success rate. I will update again after we’ve tried them to let you know how they perform.
2) Disinfect the area. My husband always does this with a bit of alcohol. Ask your healthcare professional for recommendations.
3) Consider whether or not you need treatment. We have spoken to five different doctors on the topic of routine preventative antibiotics for tick bites. Two were for it, two were against it. The fifth prescribed it to my husband because of a questionable rash and illness after the removal of a tick we didn’t catch very early. We use antibiotics when we feel they are the safest choice, but not as a matter of course- simply because of the frequency of tick bites in our area.
UPDATE: My daughter got Lyme’s this past fall, complete with an atypical rash. We did a course of antibiotics for her. It reminded me of the need for due diligence in preventative measures– because even as the author of this post, it’s easy to get lax and neglect taking simple precautions.
What should you do? Please inform yourself on Lyme’s Disease and talk to your doctor to decide what course of treatment is best for you. If you are concerned (especially if the tick has been in your skin longer than 24-48 hours), save the tick if possible to be taken in for testing.
This post is mostly about tick & Lyme’s prevention. I cannot begin to cover all the details of Lyme disease and other tick-borne illnesses, nor can I recommend a medical course of action. Here are some other helpful articles for your further research:
Remember, ALWAYS check for ticks after time outdoors in tick seasons. (I’m preaching this to myself as much as to you.) EVERY TIME. That’s the best preventative measure you can take.
It’s worth it.
I am not a healthcare professional. This post should be used for informational purposes only.