With summer upon us, being outside is among our top priorities. But our absolute top priority during this wonderful season should be protecting our skin. Whether that be by applying the proper sunscreen, or using bug spray in those buggier areas, the types of exposure to our sensitive skin in the summertime can be dangerous. One of the most popular dangers is the possibility of ticks.
I discussed the dangers of ticks and protection against the scary little blood suckers with Dr. Tanya Kormeili, a board certified dermatologist and clinical instructor at UCLA. Dr. Kormeili told me that ticks really are everywhere, but it is the one’s who carry diseases that are the real problem, “The tick itself is not the problem. Therefore, it is best to research any areas traveling to, to see if they have any diseases endemic to the area."
The common disease associated with ticks is Lyme Disease. We’ve visited the idea of Lyme Disease when discussing the best bug sprays to protect yourself this summer, but the extent of the threat goes deeper. According to LymeDisease.org, Lyme Disease is carried by infected deer ticks, “It can affect any organ of the body, including the brain and nervous system, muscles and joints, and the heart.” The tick has ingested the disease from another animal it has fed on and then is a carrier of the disease that can be passed onto others.
When spending extensive time outside, you should always check yourself for ticks. Dr. Kormeili explained that you can’t always feel a tick, “In fact, while some are felt and seen (tiny black dots on the skin) most are missed. This is why it is important to actively look at your skin for any ‘rash’ or marks.”
So what happens when you do find a tick? Don’t panic. Dr. Kormeili continues, “Shower as soon as possible to wash off any ticks. Survey the skin using a hand-held or full-length mirror to check for them. Also check pets, gear, kids to see if they might have also been exposed. Tumble clothes in a dryer on high heat to kill any ticks for at least one hour.”
If you've already been bit by a tick, then you need to pull the tick straight out with even and steady pressure. Don’t squeeze the tick or break it, you want to avoid any blood remaining on your skin. Store the tick safely, and bring it immediately to a doctor to be tested for disease.
But, the best way to protect yourself from ticks is to avoid getting bit altogether. Follow Dr. Kormeili’s advice:
The best protection is long sleeved clothing of light colors, such as white cotton. Make sure that they are well fitted and not too loose where they leave the skin unprotected. It is important to be extra vigilant in warmer months (April-September) when ticks are most active. Use repellents that contain 20 to 30% DEET (N, N-diethyl-m-toluamide), and there are more natural alternatives that contain lemongrass, citronella and soybean oils- which are less studied for their efficacy but can be presumed to be safer. You can also treat your clothes before going on vacation! Treat clothing and gear, such as boots, pants, socks and tents with products containing 0.5% permethrin.
Also, know your ticks. If you have pets, always check them after they spend time outdoors. The more you know, the better you can protect yourself, and a more enjoyable summer is guaranteed.