Ticks are small, blood-sucking insects in the same family as spiders, and they’re attracted to warm areas of the human body (such as the armpits, scalp, and groin). When they bite you, they can stay attached to the skin for days or weeks at a time, continuing to draw blood. While it’s possible to experience no ill effects after a tick bite, some people are so allergic that a single encounter with a tick causes respiratory distress. Meanwhile, as you probably know, ticks can also carry bacteria and viruses—Lyme disease is a serious risk associated with tick bites, potentially causing a circular rash, widespread joint pain, heart failure, facial muscle paralysis, and even meningitis.
With all this in mind, it’s obvious that you’ll want to do everything you can to prevent tick bites. Luckily, there are plenty of smart strategies you can use. Here are seven of the most effective.
1. Keep your lawn tidy
Ticks thrive in humidity, which means they need greenery that provides a certain amount of shade. If you keep your lawns groomed and bushes trimmed, the bulk of your yard will be simply too hot for ticks. Consequently, you and your family will be safe when you’re out sunbathing, playing or barbequing.
2. Create barriers in your yard
Since over 80% of common ticks tend to stay near the edge of your lawn, you can also use mulch, gravel or tree bark to form a barrier between the lawn and any wooded area. As a bonus, these measures help to reduce mouse activity around your yard, which also discourages ticks (since mice are a popular feeding source).
3. Apply commercial repellants (but understand the risks)
There are powerful chemical products that can help to keep ticks away from you. In particular, those that contain 20% DEET or more has a great reputation for repelling ticks, as does permethrin (though the latter can only be applied to clothing). However, note that DEET has attracted a lot of negative attention due to animal studies suggesting that it is capable of causing brain damage.
4. Use rose geranium oil
If you’re concerned about using the above products, there are natural alternatives out there. Some people swear by rose geranium oil, which can be applied to the insides of your wrists and behind your ears. You can also make a water-based version that can be sprayed onto the skin and clothing. Simply mix 2 ounces of apple cider vinegar with up to 40 drops of rose geranium oil, then add about 2 ounces of water and put the mixture into a spray bottle. Lavender and cedarwood are also said to repel ticks.
5. Change how you dress
The most dangerous time to receive a tick bite is during the end of spring and the beginning of summer when ticks are at the “nymph” stage of growth and are therefore very difficult to see with the naked eye. As a result, more tick bites received during this time end up causing illnesses like Lyme disease. Whenever you’re walking through grass, cover your ankles with calf-high boots and/or thick socks with closed-toe shoes. In addition, wear paler colors so you can spot any ticks that land on you, and keep your shirts tucked in so that no sneaky beasts can get up under your clothing. Hats can also be useful, given how much ticks like the heat of a human head.
6. Protect your pet to protect yourself
Ticks are just as attracted to your pets as they are to the warmth of human skin, and these ticks can easily migrate to you once your cat or dog has brought them into the house. If your pet is constantly running through greenery and you know you live in a tick-dense area, it’s a good idea to inspect the animal on a regular basis. The best thing you can do is get hold of protective veterinary products (such as sprays) that reduce the risk of tick bites. However, always check with your vet before applying these chemicals—some of them are only suitable for dogs, as cats are particularly sensitive to certain chemicals and may need different products. Further, never use the essential oil treatments mentioned above unless your vet has given you explicit approval.
7. Stay in the sun
When you’re out walking or camping, avoid shade and areas where moisture levels are higher. Sunny patches are among the least likely places for ticks to thrive. In addition, stay in the center of paths through the woods, maximizing the distance between your body and the vegetation. It’s still perfectly possible to enjoy some wonderful time in the outdoors, but it pays to make some small changes to your plans in order to keep yourself safe.
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Finally, if you think you have been bitten by a tick, speak to your doctor as soon as possible to discuss potential complications. Early treatment of certain tick-borne diseases can make all the difference to your well-being, and ticks that are removed within 36 hours of attaching are much less likely to pass on an infection.