While all of us are excited for warmer weather and longer sunsets, there is another critter that shares our excitement, although not for the same reasons. I'm speaking of course about Ticks, the bane of any hikers existence. Ticks are a species of Arachnid, and are commonly associated with spreading harmful diseases, such as Lyme disease. While not all ticks spread diseases, there are a variety of health issues that can stem from un-treated tick bites. Most tick bites will be entirely harmless, but rather than playing the guessing game, some knowledge of how ticks operate, and what to look for if a bite occurs can be extremely helpful. Treatments do exist for severe bites, but the best way to prevent health issues from a tick bite is to avoid the bite entirely. Let's talk about some steps for prevention, and then we'll get into ways to treat or alleviate the tick bite if it occurs.
Ticks tend to thrive in green, grassy areas, preferring to come out during warmer temperatures. Tall grass and low-hanging leafy greens are their preferred environments - so if you're hiking in a desert, ticks won't be as large of a concern. However with the plethora of green environments in North America, we are a hot bed of tick activity in a large amount of outdoor recreational and residential areas. Ticks will wait for their food to come to them, leaping onto the animals who pass by. Generally most ticks are extremely small and hard to notice until a thorough check is done. It's especially important to check yourself, and others in your group, as well as pets, at least once per day. Once they've gotten hold of you, a Tick will generally navigate to darker, moist areas. This is part of the reason why you can have a tick on you for days without realizing - and why checking yourself frequently is so important.
Dress appropriately to avoid a tick catching hold. While it might be tempting to wear open toed shoes on a hot day, this is one of the worst ideas, as it gives ticks surface level access to your body. Closed shoes, such as sneakers or preferably hiking boots, combined with a long pair of socks is a great first step to preventing ticks. Long socks are a must, as they will cover the gap between your ankles and shins. It's recommended to wear pants tucked into your socks, as this is going to be the most surefire way to prevent ticks from getting to your skin. If that's not really your style, and prefer to wear shorts on these types of hikes, longer socks are recommended. The entire goal here is to prevent direct surface level skin contact to the ticks - and the amount of skin you need to cover will vary. Tall knee-high grass means your entire body should be covered, whereas grass that barely crests your ankle may not require a full pair of pants.
The same goes for your arms, covering them as necessary. On top of covering yourself in layers, you can also cover yourself in insect repellents to deter them from biting in the first place. Special Tick repellents are designed specifically for, well, ticks, and should be available in everyone's outdoor pantry. For pets, tick repellents vary and are even more necessary, as ticks can get under their fur, hiding for days or more. Lyme disease claims the lives of thousands of pets per year in the United States, so protecting your furry friends is equally important. It's recommended to treat your pets with tick repellents if they're outdoors at all, so this should come as nothing new to outdoor enthusiasts who bring their pets with them.
Before we get into what to do if you find a tick on you, let's first discuss the daily checks you should do. I personally do 2 checks per day - one in the morning and another at night. In a recent post we talked about cleaning yourself regularly, as this helps with checking for ticks. Checking the parts of your body that don't get as much sunlight is likely where you may find a tick that has settled. Carefully inspecting your body for ticks, you can visually check the areas you can with your eyes, and use your hands for the areas you can. Any irregularities should be examined closer, and if a tick is discovered, should proceed with removal immediately.
There are specially designed tick removal tools, but a pair of tweezers should work well. Using tweezers you'll want to grab the tick as close to your skin as you can. Gently pull upwards in a slow and steady motion - ensure you're not twisting or squeezing too tightly. Once the tick is removed you can store it in a container if you think you may need to have it examined later. It's not recommended to just release them, disposing of them is the best practice if you don't plan on keeping it.
Once the tick has been removed, clean the area with warm water or rubbing alcohol. While a majority of tick bites won't cause disease, there are tell tale signs of an infectious tick bite. Look out for:
• Rashing in the affected area
• Fever, chills, fatigue, muscle and joint pain, or similar Flu-Like symptoms
• Difficulty breathing
In these cases there is a potential that it was a disease carrying tick. If you are experiencing any of these symptoms it would be best to cancel the rest of your trip and seek immediate medical attention from a professional healthcare provider. If caught early, most diseases spread by ticks are easily treated. However, extended infections can quickly take a turn for the worst, and this is why every outdoor enthusiast will stress how important it is to check yourself regularly for these little pests. If you don't have the tools already, our all inclusive First Aid Kit contains everything you need to remove ticks, as well as cleaning the bite area.
As always, be sure to plan accordingly and make proper preparations for the environments you'll be visiting. Never push yourself past your means, and pack extra supplies for a worst case scenario.