This quick and thorough routine will walk you through how to do a tick check on a child. If you're in an area where ticks abound, you'll want to do this every day.
One tick bite is all it takes to change your life.
That might sound a bit dramatic, but it's very true. Like thousands of other victims of tick-borne illnesses, I discovered first-hand how quickly a healthy human can be debilitated by getting sick from a single tick bite, when I contracted Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever 7 years ago.
The tick that bit me was just a teeny little thing, but it brought on a mountain of misery that landed me unconscious in an ambulance, then transferred to a large regional hospital. In an effort to figure out what was going on, so many tests had to be run that lab technicians joked they were going for a new record.
For days, I was so sick I could barely drag myself on my knees to the bathroom. For weeks, I could barely walk. When I did begin to recover and started to pick up my life again, I was plagued by new auto-immune conditions the doctors told me had been triggered either by the illness, or by the long and hefty regimen of medications I'd needed. Either way, they couldn't tell me what to do about them or how long they'd last. "Maybe six months. Maybe forever." was what the primary infectious diseases specialist told me.
I was lucky. I'm alive. My health has recovered. I have two beautiful kids, and the energy to keep up with them. Many, many others who suffer the ravages of tick-borne illnesses suffer with mysterious and troubling symptoms for years before they finally get a diagnosis, and treatment.
After learning first-hand just how debilitating a tick bite can be, it's now one of my top summertime priorities to protect my kids from ticks. We have ducks and chickens that free-range our yard, and keep the abundance of ticks at bay, but even so, in a bad tick year like this one, I still find a tick on one of us, nearly every day.
Living in the Northeast, ticks are a fact of life. That means tick checks are a fact of life as well. For me, with two small kids who spend many hours a day outside, I feel most comfortable knowing that I've done a thorough tick check both before naptime, and before bedtime. Here's how I do it.
How to do a fast and thorough tick check on a child
If you can, it's always a great idea to first give your child a bath or shower, and then do a thorough tick check. It can be easier to spot a tick on clean skin than dirty skin. I also feel the warm water seems to help get them moving, making them easier to find.
1. Start with the hair
Run your fingers all through your child's hair, carefully feeling the scalp - this is a spot ticks seem very drawn to. Pay special attention to the hairline at the nape of the neck. If hair isn't short, brush through it.
2. Check the ears
Take a peek inside the ears, and look carefully behind the ears - this is another prime lurking spot.
3. Check under the chin, then under each armpit.
4. Look carefully down the torso, front and back.
5. Check carefully between the legs, front and back.
Even as mothers of small children, it can be easy to skip quickly through the step of searching the nether-regions for ticks. This is another area the nasty critters like to hide though, so be thorough.
6. Scan down each leg, front and back.
7. Look carefully between the toes, then lift the foot and check the sole
Yes, I've even found ticks underneath feet. No place can be taken for granted. Aren't they awful?
If you do find a tick and it's not yet attached, simply remove the nasty thing and flush it down the toilet.
If you find a tick and it has already bitten your child, don't panic. The more calm you are, the easier it will be for your child to stay calm while you remove the tick. Use a tick removal tool like this if you have one, or a fine-tipped pair of tweezers if you don't. Grab the tick as close to the head as possible, and firmly pull it out. This page from the CDC goes more in depth on how to remove ticks, and what to do if you've been bitten.
Do not use folklore methods like matches or nail polish - these simply make it more likely for the tick to spread disease.
That's my usual tick check routine. It doesn't need to take long, and having a regular routine makes it easy for me to be thorough. It also makes it so my kids know exactly what to expect, every single time. They hold out their arms so I can peek under armpits, and lift their feet for me to look between toes.
I know that especially for those vacationing in an area where ticks abound, the idea of "checking for ticks" can be new and stressful. I hope this quick checklist can help alleviate a bit of that stress, if you're finding yourself needing a tick-check routine with your kids.