Tick tips: How to spot the little suckers

Kinderling News & Features

The summer heat is a tick’s favourite time of year, so we asked nurse and founder of CPR Kids, Sarah Hunstead, what we need to know to keep the kids safe outdoors. 

Listen to Sarah’s interview on Kinderling Conversation: 

What is a tick? 

Ticks hail from the arachnid family, which also includes spiders and scorpions. “They’re parasites that feed on animal or human blood,” explains Sarah. 

Paralysis ticks are the most common kind on the eastern side of Australia, with some in South Australia and Tasmania too. They have backwards jaws that latch on to skin and burrow in. 

What they look like depends on their age. They begin as larvae, then become nymphs, which you might see as tiny brown ticks on you. Big, adult ticks are much easier to see. “When they’re engorged with blood, they can get up to about a centimetre in diameter as well,” explains Sarah. 

Where do they live? 

In Australia, ticks predominantly prefer the coastline. 

“Ticks love warm, humid environments, they’re particularly more prevalent after rain,” says Sarah. “They like a nice patch of long grass or bushes to climb up on and drop onto unsuspecting snacks. They prefer a bushy environment.” 

How can I tell if I’ve been bitten? 

“What’s important to do is once you’ve been in a tick area that you have a really good inspection of yourself and your kids to see if you do have any ticks on you,” recommends Sarah. 

You do need to check the entire body, but Sarah lists the places that ticks especially like to latch on, “Behind the ears is a place they love to go, round the back of the neck, in the hair as well and they don’t mind a bit of armpit or butt crack action too.” 

Often you can feel a little bit itchy or irritated in certain areas when a tick has bitten you. There are certain symptoms that occur after a while, including a headache, which comes from the ticks’ allergenic, toxin-filled saliva. 

Ticks look different to mosquito bites, instead like little brown dots on the skin, so they can be hard to see when just crawling around. Once actually bitten though, there is a raised red area as well. 

Being aware of tick paralysis is important, though it is incredible rare, says Sarah. “Some of the symptoms include rashes, headache, fever, flu-like symptoms and weakness.” So if you still feel unwell after the tick is removed, seek medical help. 

How can they be removed? 

Old removal methods are now not recommended, says Sarah. “Traditionally what’s happened with tick removal is we’ve either scratched them out or we’ve used fine forceps or tweezers to pull the ticks out.” 

However, this can have a negative effect. “When we’re removing them with forceps or tweezers, we’re actually squeezing more of that saliva and toxins out of the tick into our body,” says Sarah. 

“A much better way to remove them is to freeze them off. Another way we used to do it is pour over some metho or tee tree oil over the top of them to kill them. That really annoys the ticks. What they do is get irritated and put more toxins in.” 

Instead, have some freezing spray on hand in your first aid kit. Follow the directions for use and follow your pharmacist’s advice. For the adult ticks, spray on top for 10 minutes, and they will fall off because they’re frozen. 

Tiny little nymph ticks can be removed by using pyrethrum cream, from the chemist as well. Smooth it over the top to kill them and they’ll all drop off. 

If the ticks are in for a while, a week or so and you have not realised, you might feel or look unwell, perhaps with a sore head or eyes, a bit tired and potentially sensitive to light. In this case, seek medical help to find and remove the tick.