How to Prevent Tick Bites and What to Do If You Get One

I recently got to experience a guided cannabis hike through Muir Woods National Monument, and I brought home more than just a high. Hours later in my kitchen, I felt something small attached to my scalp behind my ear and was horrified to pull off a tick that had enlarged to the size of a pencil top. Instinctively, I flailed my arms violently to get it off my finger instead of killing it, and now I have a loose tick as a roommate. Moral of the story, don't do what I did. I will tell you, however, that if you ever need a reason to sober up instantly, that's one way to go about it.

Protecting yourself from ticks is important because some can carry Lyme disease, which can spread to the heart and nervous system if left untreated. To keep you and your loved ones safe when venturing outdoors, take precautions and learn how to safely remove insects in case of bites. Ahead is everything you need to know about tick prevention, protection, and anything else I wish I had known before embarking on my hike.

Before You Go Outdoors

  • Spray any exposed skin with Environmental Protection Agency-approved repellents that contain 20 percent or more DEET, picaridin, IR3535, oil of lemon eucalyptus, or 2-undecanone. *Please check to find out which ingredients are safe for babies and at what age.
  • Wear light-colored clothing to easily spot insects and ticks while outdoors (I made the mistake of wearing all black).
  • Treat clothing and gear with products containing at least 0.5 percent permethrin, which will remain even after several washes.

While You're Outside

  • Stay in the middle of trails to avoid brushing by ticks. They live in moist and humid environments, in wooded, bushy, or grassy areas.

When You Return Indoors

  • Do a full-body check for any ticks you may have carried inside, and kill any you find. Do not overlook any areas, including the belly button, hair, and around the ears.
  • To be safe, throw clothing into the dryer and tumble dry for 10 minutes on high heat to kill ticks.
  • Shower as soon as you can, and conduct another check.

How to Remove a Tick

  1. Use sharp tweezers and pull the tick off as close to your skin as possible. You do not want to twist the tick off because its mouth might remain attached even if the rest of its body is removed. Instead, pull it upward and steady.
  2. Clean the bitten area with rubbing alcohol or soap and water.

Symptoms of Lyme Disease

In the case that you are bitten by a black-legged tick carrying Lyme disease, look out for these symptoms ahead. Most people are infected by tiny immature ticks called nymphs (about the size of a poppy seed) that feed during Spring and Summer. Adult ticks (the size of a sesame seed) may also transmit disease but are usually large enough to be detected early. In most cases, a tick must be attached 36 to 48 hours before infecting you.

If you detect any of the signs below, please see a doctor immediately. Keep in mind that symptoms can begin as early as three days or even months later, getting more severe over time.

  • Flu-like symptoms (including joint aches, chills, fever, headaches, fatigue, and swollen lymph nodes)
  • A target or bulls-eye shaped rash (or any swollen, red areas)
  • Headaches and neck stiffness
  • Additional rashes around the body
  • Arthritis
  • Drooping of the face
  • Joint, muscle, or tendon pain
  • Heart palpitations
  • Dizziness or short breath
  • Nerve pain
  • Inflammation of the brain or spinal cord
  • Problems with short-term memory