Ticks are parasites that feed on human and animal blood. A tick bite is usually harmless, but sometimes it can cause an allergic reaction or serious illness. If you have a tick bite, it is very important to remove the tick as soon as possible.

Types of tick bite

There are about 70 different sorts of tick in Australia. They are especially common along the east coast. Some have a flat body and a long mouth, while some look wrinkly and leathery.

In Australia, most tick bites are caused by the paralysis tick (sometimes called a grass tick, seed tick or bush tick). They grow from an egg to a larva (about 1mm long and brown) and then to a nymph (about 2mm long and pale brown). An adult paralysis tick is about 1cm long and a grey-blue colour.

Ticks need blood to grow. They crawl up grass or twigs and drop onto passing animals or humans, attaching themselves to the soft skin to feed. They inject a substance to stop the blood clotting. Their saliva can also be poisonous.

Some people are allergic to tick bites. Others, usually children, can develop a condition called tick paralysis. It is also possible for ticks to pass on several illnesses to humans.

Tick bite symptoms

If you have been bitten, usually you will just notice redness and swelling around the tick bite. This will disappear once you remove the tick.

Symptoms of tick paralysis include:

  • a rash
  • headache
  • fever
  • flu-like symptoms
  • sore glands
  • walking unsteadily
  • not being able to tolerate bright lights
  • weak limbs
  • a paralysed face

Symptoms of an allergic reaction to tick bites include:

  • swollen throat
  • difficulty breathing
  • collapsing
A Tick before and after feeding.

Tick bite treatment

If you are not allergic to ticks, you should remove the tick as soon as possible. Try not to squeeze or agitate the tick since it will be more likely to inject its saliva into you.

First, kill the tick by spraying it with a product that contains ether (such as Wart-Off Freeze, Aerostart or Elastoplast Cold Spray) and wait for it to drop off. It should die and drop off in about 5 minutes. Don’t use tweezers to pull the tick out.

Do not jerk or twist the tick. Don’t use methylated spirits, kerosene, petroleum jelly, nail polish, oil or alcohol, or use a lighted match. These don’t work and may cause the tick to burrow deeper into your skin.

If you are allergic to ticks, do not try to remove the tick — kill it with a spray that contains ether. If it’s your first allergic reaction, go straight to a hospital emergency department. If you have had allergic reactions before, talk to your doctor about how to remove the tick and whether you will need to see a doctor every time.

Tick bite prevention

  • Keep your skin covered in areas where there might be ticks. Wear a long-sleeved shirt, tuck your trousers into your socks and wear a wide-brimmed hat.
  • Avoid bush and long grass, especially after rain.
  • Use an insect repellent that contains DEET or picaridin.
  • You can put an insecticide that contains permethrin onto your clothes.
  • Brush your clothes and check your skin for ticks when you come inside.
  • Place clothes in a hot dryer for 20 minutes to kill ticks.

Information gathered from: