How to remove a tick with a stuck head

Written by lisa miller
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When a tick bites you, it inserts barbs that resemble reverse harpoons into the skin to securely attach itself. To further ensure secure attachment, ticks also secrete a tacky, adhesive substance. For these reasons, it can often be difficult to remove a tick completely, and mouthparts can be left behind. When these mouthparts remain behind, they can cause a secondary infection, according to the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene. It is important to remove the entire tick--body and head--when it has firmly attached itself.

Skill level:

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Things you need

  • Fine-point tweezers
  • Small lidded container
  • Label
  • Rubbing alcohol

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  1. 1

    Pull the skin taut surrounding the tick bite.

  2. 2

    Grasp the tick gently with a pair of fine-tipped tweezers, or special tick-removal tweezers, as close to your skin as possible. Be very careful not to squeeze the head or body of the tick.

  3. 3

    Apply a small amount of pressure to the tick and slowly pull it straight out in one smooth motion. Do not attempt to twist the tick, because this may cause the mouthparts to remain behind.

  4. 4

    Place the tick in a small container and close the lid tightly. Label the container with the date of the tick removal and the location where you were bitten.

  5. 5

    Wash your hands well. Use rubbing alcohol to disinfect the tweezers and the tick bite.

  6. 6

    If you are concerned about potential tick-borne illness, take the container with the tick to a local health centre or veterinarian for testing and identification.

Tips and warnings

  • If a tick's mouthparts remain after the tick has been removed, you have two options, according to Mary M. Gottesman, Ph.D., RN, CPNP, FAAN of The Ohio State University. You can either wait for the mouthparts to work their way out of the skin naturally while keeping the area disinfected, or you can remove them with a clean needle in the same way you would remove a splinter. Either way, be sure to keep the area clean and watch for any signs of infection or symptoms of tick-borne illness.
  • Check yourself often for ticks when outside; the longer a tick feeds, the more likely it is to transmit tick-borne illnesses.
  • Never apply petroleum jelly to the tick in an attempt to suffocate it. Not only does this not work, but it makes tick removal difficult.
  • Do not attempt to burn a tick or place a match near the skin.

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