There’s no way to completely avoid ticks! A short stroll through tall grass can lead to a tick latching into your skin. You might catch him if you’re diligent with your post hike tick checks, but most people don’t realize they have a tick until it’s already burrowed into their skin. Removing a tick is a fairly simple process, but what happens if a ticks head gets stuck in your skin? Does it really need to come out and how do you remove a tick head left in your skin?
How Do You Remove A Tick Head Stuck In Your Skin? To properly remove a tick you need to grasp the body and pull straight out in a steady motion, but sometimes you’ll be left with a ticks head, mouth, and legs embedded in your skin. Your skin will eventually force the tick head out, but there are a few methods to remove the embedded head. You can use an extractor tool, tweezers, or cut it out using nail cuticle scissors.
Note that most of the time tick heads are fairly harmless, but they can be irritating. Once a ticks burrowed into your body for more than 36 hours it’s already started transmitting Lyme Disease and other parasitic diseases. Removing the head will help reduce inflammation and itching, but it could also lead to infection. So make sure everything you use to remove the tick head is sterilized and watch out for signs of infection.
In the rest of this post I’ll explain how to remove a tick head left in your skin and avoid possible infection. I’ll go over how long it takes for a tick to spread disease and explain what happens if you leave a tick head in your skin. You may also decide that it’s better to just leave the head in wait for your skin to naturally force it out.
There’s A Tick Head Left In My Skin! Is It Dangerous?
Following proper tick removal methods (see below) usually prevents a ticks body from breaking off, but there are times where a deeply embedded tick will break off into your skin. A ticks mouth/teeth (called the hyposteme) looks like a barbed wire spear and as you pull it out the barbs try to hold onto your skin.
It’s almost like trying to pull a fishing hook straight out! The barbs just dig into your skin and won’t let go. So one of two things will happen when you pull out the head. Either the barbs rip through your skin completely removing the tick or they snap off staying embedded in your skin. Even a perfect tick pull won’t be 100% effective with a deeply embedded tick.
So you’ve attempted to remove an embedded tick and there are pieces of the ticks body still left in your skin. What do you do now? Is leaving the ticks head in your skin dangerous? Leaving a ticks head in your skin won’t increase your chance of catching Lyme Disease, but it can lead to itching, inflammation, and possibly infection.
You can either choose to deal with the itching/inflammation for a few days until the head comes out on its own or try to pull it out and ease the pain. Trying to remove the head with unsterilized equipment can also lead to infection so be careful when you’re sanitizing the area and cleaning equipment. Now lets get into what you should do if there’s a tick head left in your skin and how to remove it.
Can You Leave A Tick Head In Your Skin?
Yes, you can leave a tick head in your skin! Leaving a tick’s head embedded in your skin won’t increase your risk of Lyme Disease and other tick-borne diseases. The only problem is it can lead to an increased risk of infection. The ticks head and mouth are covered in germs and possibly disease that you don’t want to leave inside your skin.
The tick’s head may fall out by itself, or it might not. Your skin can heal over the tick bite creating a hard bump over the tick head trapping the foreign object in your skin. This can lead to a painful inflamed area that will last for months. It’s best not to leave it up to chance and remove the head immediately.
How To Remove The Head Of A Tick
If there’s a tick head left in your skin, Don’t Panic! A tick head stuck in your skin doesn’t increase your risk of catching tick-borne disease, but you should still try to remove the head. Leaving the head in your skin will increase your risk of infection, but if you can’t get the head out there are ways to reduce your chance of infection.
Regularly wash the area with soap/water and clean off the area with rubbing alcohol. Watch for swelling, redness, and signs of infection in the area surrounding the tick bite. A round bullseye shaped rash is a telltale sign of Lyme disease, but common rashes may also be a sign of concern.
See a doctor if you develop a fever, chills, headache, muscle/joint pain, and a rapidly expanding rash (bullseye rash). More than 80% of people with Lyme Disease develop a rash. It’s always better to err on the side of caution and see a doctor if you’re concerned. Hopefully you saved the tick body for testing, but most doctors will put you on antibiotics regardless of the results.
What Does A Tick Head Look Like?
So how do you know if there’s a tick head embedded in your skin? What does a tick head look like?
You should be able to easily tell if there’s a tick head and other parts of a tick left in your skin. After removing the main part of the tick, you will see a tiny black or brown dot in the center of the bite area. Most of the time the tick breaks off at the mouth leaving the hypostome inside.
If you completely remove the tick, you won’t see much of anything. A clean removal will look like red inflamed skin with nothing in the center of the bite area. You still need to watch out for signs of infection, but it’s less likely with a complete removal.
You might want to check out my post explaining what the head of a tick looks like for more info.
How To Remove The Head Of A Tick
Let’s get a refresher course on the proper tick removal method, before I explain how to remove a broken off head. You can usually avoid breaking off parts of the tick by firmly grasping the tick and pulling out in a smooth steady motion. If you don’t follow the proper removal process there’s a high risk of the tick head breaking off in your skin.
So how do you remove a tick? Tick removal tools (I use these) make getting out a tick easy! Unfortunately most people don’t have dedicated tick removal hooks, but almost everybody has a set of tweezers. So I’ll explain how to remove a tick using tweezers, but the same method can be applied with tick removers.
- Clean Your Tweezers: Sterilize your tweezers by dipping them in rubbing alcohol or wiping them down with alcohol wipes.
- Grab The Tick: Use your tweezers to grab the head of the tick. Go as close to your skin as possible.
- Pull Upward With Steady Pressure: Pull upward on the ticks head/body with steady even pressure. Don’t twist the tweezers or jerk the tick, because it can lead to the head and mouth parts breaking off in your skin. If the head breaks off you should try to remove it with tweezers or follow any of the removal methods below. If you can’t remove the mouth easily it’s best to leave it alone and let the skin heal.
- Clean The Area: After removing the tick thorougly clean the area with soap and water. Follow that up by wiping down the area with rubbing alcohol or an alcohol pad. Repeat the process everyday until the swelling and signs of inflammation go away. See a doctor if a rash forms or you notice signs of infection.
- Save The Tick: Never crush a tick with your fingers. Place the tick in rubbing alcohol to instantly kill it (ticks can survive in water). Store the tick in an airtight container like a prescription pill bottle or wrap it in tape. The CDC recommends keeping ticks for 30 days so they can be tested if you run into complications.
Removing a tick is a fairly straightforward process, but there can be problems! Even when you follow proper tick removal methods, the head can still break off in your skin. I’ve taken out dozens of ticks over the years and even with experience the body may eventually break off.
It happened to me on a recent camping trip! I was solo backpacking and neglected my regular tick routine. By the time I noticed him the little bugger had dug deep into my ankle and broke off when I tried to remove him. Here’s how you can get a tick head out of your skin.
There are three common removal methods that most people follow. You can use an extractor pump, tweezers or other tools to dig it out, or cut the tick head out. The extractor pump (bug bite suction tool) is by far the easiest tick removal method, but hardly anybody owns one. It can also be used to remove splinters and bee stingers so it’s nice to have even if you rarely deal with ticks.
Method 1: Removing Tick Heads Like A Splinter (tweezers and needle)
Most doctors offices and health websites recommend removing the tick head like a common splinter. I’m really good at removing splinters, but removing tick heads is a completely different beast. A ticks mouth is a like a barbed wire claw holding on for dear life. You can pull and pick like your life depends on it and it won’t want to come out easily.
Pointy tipped tweezers (like these Tick ease Tweezers) will be the most important tool for removing an embedded tick head. You need to have a sharp downward tweezer point for digging and scraping at the embedded head and body parts.
Sterilize the tweezers with rubbing alcohol and try to grab the head using the tweezers. If that doesn’t work you will need to dig at the head using a sterilized needle to see if it will loosen up some. Repeat the tweezer process and see if it will come out.
This is by far the best tick head removal method, but they can be extremely hard to remove. Only try this method a few times and if it doesn’t come out right away it’s time to give up and move on. It’s a 50/50 chance if you’ll be able to remove the ticks body using tweezers.
I’ve dug deep trenches into my skin trying to work a tick head out without coming close. Give up before you make a nasty wound in your skin if the head doesn’t come out right away. It probably won’t work and all you’re doing is making a nasty wound that can lead to an even worse infection. Move onto one of the other removal methods I’ll get into below.
Method 2: Tick Extractor Pumps (Bug Bite Thing Suction Tool)
People seem to either love or hate bug bite extractor pumps. They work by using suction to remove everything that’s inside the bite area. There are quite a few different products to choose from, but have the Bug Bite Thing Suction Tool.
I originally bought it because I have a serious reaction to mosquito bites, but it also works with bees, wasps, ticks, biting flies, no-see-ums, and chiggers. It removes most irritants left under the skin using suction. By removing the irritant the body stops producing the reaction that is causing pain, itching and swelling. This same suction will help dislodge the tick head and hopefully remove it from your skin.
Here’s How To Use An Extraction Pump To Remove Tick Parts
- Use tweezers or a tick removal tool to get the tick out of your skin. The extractor tool is only used to remove leftover parts of the tick.
- Put the suction tube over the tick head remaining in your skin.
- Pull upward on the plunger suctioning the bite area. This should help dislodge the head and mouth parts from your skin. Repeat the process a few times to see if it doesn’t work at first. Theoretically the suctions should also remove tick saliva from the bitten area. Most experts don’t think it reduces your chance of catching tickborne illness, but it definitely won’t hurt.
- Don’t be surprised if the device leaves a suction mark where it sucked on your skin. There may be a little bit of blood as it pulls on the bitten area.
Unfortunately, by the time you pick up a suction tool it will probably be too late to get the tick head out of your skin. It will either works its way out on its own or your skin will grow up over the head, but it’s still a handy tool to keep around for the next time you get bit. It also works really well for removing embedded bee/wasp stingers and drawing out the poison.
If neither of the above methods work you’re left with two options. You can either cut the head out using a pair of sterilized scissors or leave things be and hope your body deals with the potential infection. I prefer disinfecting the area and cutting the tick head out, because I’m a baby that doesn’t like to deal with an itchy painful bite wound.
Method 3: Cutting Out The Tick Head
You need to take a lot of precautions when cutting out a tick head. Introducing bacteria to the wound can cause more problems than a few small tick bits. Sterilizing all your equipment and the affected area is crucial to preventing infection.
The nasty barbs on a tick’s mouth may make the head impossible to remove with conventional methods. You will have to take a pair of sharp scissors and cut the surrounding area of your skin to release the barbs. Cutting out a small piece of your skin won’t be fun. It will definitely hurt and could cause infection so I recommend skipping this method and letting it work its way out naturally.
If you do want to cut the tick head out you need to have a pair of very sharp scissors that are sterilized in rubbing alcohol. A pair of nail cuticle scissors is your best bet and you can pick them up at any pharmacy, Walmart, or beauty store.
Disinfect your cuticle scissors and the wound with rubbing alcohol and cut a small section of skin around the tick head. Apply a topical antibiotic like Neosporin to the inflamed area and place a Band-Aid over the wound. Clean the area until the wound heals and keep an eye out for infection.
Method 4: Wait For The Head To Come Out On It’s Own
Technically, the simplest way to remove a tick head is to simply wait it out, but you should take some steps to remove the head. Trying to pull it out with tweezers should always be your first step. If that doesn’t work it’s probably best to let the embedded tick head work it’s way out on its own.
Your skin will eventually push the tick head out, but it will be itchy and painful while that’s happening. In some cases leaving the tick head in can lead to infection, but cleaning the area with rubbing alcohol and antibiotics should help. That’s why most major health agencies recommend trying to pull the head out with tweezers for a minute or two and if that doesn’t work leave things alone so the area can heal on its own.
You might want to check out my other post explaining how long it takes for a tick head to come out on its own. It goes over the dangers of leaving a tick head in and gives tips on speeding up the process.
How Long Will It Take For The Tick Head To Come Out Of Your Skin?
It shouldn’t take longer than 2 weeks for the tick head to work its way out of your skin. During this time the area will most likely itch and remain inflamed. Skin will start to grow slowly pushing the head out towards the surface where it will fall out or you can remove it easily with tweezers. Simply scratching at the head is usually enough to pop it out.
There are a few factors that could change the amount of time for the head to be removed. Some areas of skin heal faster than others and it also depends on the bite depth. It could take over a month if the heads really deep in the skin.
Do I Need to Save The tick For Testing?
It’s always a good idea to save the ticks body for testing even though most tick bites are harmless. The tick needs to be embedded in your skin for 36-48 hours before it can start transmitting disease. Tick bites are relatively harmless if you catch them early and remove the body before the feeding process has begun.
It can still lead to infection, but disease won’t spread until after the tick has already started to feed. Once a tick starts to feed it’s body will engorge with blood. Most people don’t see enough ticks to tell the difference so you should always assume the ticks reached the feeding stage and save the body for testing.
The CDC recommends holding onto a ticks body for 30 days in case it needs to be tested for disease. You don’t need to keep every little piece (the body is enough to test). Kill the tick by suffocating it in rubbing alcohol and keep it in an airtight container until the risk of infection/complications has passed. A prescription pill bottle or small glass jar is perfect storing a dead tick.
Never crush a tick with your fingers, because that will release blood from potentially diseased animals onto your hands and that could lead to infection.