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Tick Bite Symptoms and Signs
Tick bites are generally painless. Many people may not even notice the bite and may never find the tick if it falls off. Small ticks, like the deer tick that transmits Lyme disease, are so tiny they may be nearly undetectable. Some ticks are about as small as the period at the end of this sentence. However, there are some symptoms that may occur that can be directly related to the tick itself; they are due to the tick bite. Occasionally, a neurotoxin secreted at the time of attachment to make the bite unnoticeable to humans and other hosts can cause muscle weakness or paralysis. It rarely causes paralysis that inhibits breathing. The simple task of removing the tick stops any further neurotoxin production, and the person usually recovers quickly and completely. The actual bite may cause symptoms only after the tick drops off. However, some people may notice local redness, itching, burning, and rarely, localized intense pain (soft ticks) before or after the tick drops off. The majority of tick bites result in few, if any, immediate symptoms.
The results of the illnesses transmitted by ticks often begin days to weeks after the tick is gone. That's why doctors may not suspect a tick-related illness because many people ignore or forget about barely noticeable "bites." The most important clue about any tick-related illness is to tell the physician about a tick bite. Also, the individual needs to tell their physician about outdoor activity (camping, hiking, etc.) in tick-infested areas even if the person does not remember a tick bite.
After a tick bite, individuals may develop any of these symptoms that may be due to the pathogen(s) that the tick transmits during its bite: flu-like symptoms, fever, numbness, rash, confusion, weakness, pain and swelling in joints, palpitations, shortness of breath, and nausea and vomiting.
Call or see a doctor if any of these conditions exist:
The person or child bitten by a tick exhibits any weakness, paralysis, lethargy, confusion, fever, numbness, headache, or rashes.
The tick cannot be removed from the skin, or the head and mouthparts remain in the skin after removal.
Symptoms listed above persist or get worse.
Pregnant individuals should inform their doctors of tick bites and particularly before they take any medications.
Go immediately to a hospital's emergency department if a tick bite causes any of the following: fever,
headache, confusion, weakness or paralysis, numbness, vomiting, difficulty breathing, or palpitations.
There are no tests that identify either tick bites or the type of tick once the tick dislodges from the body. However, physicians can conduct a careful examination of the entire body looking for ticks still attached, rashes, or signs of a tick-caused disease. If the tick is identified, the physician can better determine what tests should be done. The third web citation has photos of ticks that can help distinguish ticks from biting insects such as fleas or bedbugs. Identification of the tick genus and species may help the physician determine what further tests may be appropriate. For example, blood tests for diseases such as Lyme disease, Rocky Mountain spotted fever, ehrlichiosis, and tularemia are generally not positive for weeks after the exposure, even though symptoms may be present, and examination of blood under a microscope is necessary to diagnose babesiosis. Knowledge of the type of tick that caused the bite can help narrow the physician's list of possible diagnoses and even allow the physician to proceed with early therapy before a positive diagnosis is made.
Exams and tests should be done if an individual exhibits symptoms after a tick bite; most tick bites do not result in symptoms. If symptoms develop after a tick bite, the determination of which tests need to be performed is best done in consultation with an infectious disease specialist.