Mom Goes Camping

Tick Bite Itches Like Crazy! What It Means (and Whether You Need to Worry)

It’s bad enough to get a tick bite.  Not only is it gross to have a parasite feeding off you, but you’ve also got to vigilantly pay attention to the bite spot to make sure a Lyme disease rash (see these pictures) doesn’t form. 

Some people experience another issue after bites: The tick bite itches like crazy.  If you have an itchy tick bite and are worried that this is a sign of Lyme disease, here is what you need to know.

 

Tick Bites Usually Don’t Itch…

If you’ve got an itchy tick bite, then it’s probably annoying that many major health websites say that tick bites don’t cause itchiness.  EverydayHealth says, “Unlike the bites of mosquitoes and other insects, tick bites do not tend to cause itching or immediate skin irritation.”  WebMD simply says that a tick bite “isn’t usually itchy” and Seattle Children’s Hospital bluntly states that “A tick bite does not cause pain or itch.”

Despite what these health websites say, itchy tick bites are common – especially if you get bit by ticks often.

 

What Causes Tick Bites to Itch?

Like with other parasites that feed on blood, ticks have chemicals in their saliva.  The chemicals act as anesthetics and histamine blockers.  Normally, these chemicals will prevent you from feeling any pain or itchiness so the tick can feed freely, but some people experience a reaction to the tick saliva which causes itchiness.

In some rare cases, an itchy tick bite is an allergic reaction to chemicals in the tick’s saliva. However, ticks have had millions of years to evolve their saliva to prevent reactions. Crazily, ticks actually adjust the chemicals in their saliva as they are attached, so your immune system (usually) won’t be able to detect them! ( 12)

 

The More Frequently You Get Bit By Ticks, the More Likely Itchiness Is

Here’s where things get really cool.  If you get bit by ticks often, it’s more likely that your tick bites will itch.

After getting bit by a tick multiple times, your immune system starts to recognize proteins in the tick saliva.  Even the tick’s cool trick of adjusting the chemicals won’t work anymore: Your body will realize that there’s a foreign invader in it and start mounting an immune response.  That immune response can cause redness, inflammation and itchiness at the tick bite site.  The clinical term for this is “acquired cutaneous hypersensitivity response.”

One study published in Emerging Infectious Disease (EID)  found that the probability of itch doubled as the number of reported tick bites increased.  After the first tick bite there was a 21% probability of itchiness.  After the second bite, the probability increased to 46%.  After the fourth tick bite, there was a 97% probability of experiencing itchiness!

 

Embedded Tick Heads Also Cause Itchiness

Another reason that your tick bite might itch is that the head broke off while you were removing it.  Speaking from experience, a tick head stuck in your skin will cause inflammation and a lot of itchiness.

To reduce the likelihood of the tick head breaking off:

tick head stuck in skin

 

Is An Itchy Tick Bite a Sign of Lyme Disease?

If the bite site feels itchy immediately after removing the tick or in the days afterwards, there’s no need to worry: it is not a sign of Lyme disease.  In fact, the study published in EID found that people who experienced itchiness after tick bite had a lower chance of Lyme disease. The researchers hypothesize that this is because ticks which cause itch will be noticed and removed sooner.  The immune reaction which causes itchiness might also help prevent Lyme disease.

Important notes:

  • Tick bite itchiness is usually mild. If you have severe itchiness, it might be a sign of an allergic reaction.  Play it safe and call your doctor!
  • Itchiness is common immediately after the tick bite, but not many days or weeks later. If the itchiness doesn’t go away, it could be a sign of another tick-borne disease.
  • Having an itchy tick bite doesn’t mean you don’t have Lyme disease (it just isn’t a sign of Lyme). After removing a tick, always be vigilant about monitoring the bite site and paying attention for other Lyme symptoms.

 

What Can I Put on a Tick Bite to Stop It from Itching?

If the tick bite itchiness is driving you crazy, you can try these remedies to stop the itch:

  • Activated charcoal poultice: Applied immediately after removing the tick; it doesn’t work well for older bites.
  • Broadleaf plantain poultice: The weed, not the one which looks like a banana.
  • Lavender poultice
  • Tea tree oil
  • OTC hydrocortisone creams
  • Baking soda: Mix some with water to make a paste and apply over the tick bite site.

 

Do tick bites make you itchy? What do you do about it? Let us know in the comments section below.


Other resource for this article:
https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0091674920324131
Title image credit: “Tick bite wound” (CC BY-NC 2.0) by rosaamarilla
Tagged with:    

About the author /


Diane Vukovic grew up camping and backpacking in upstate New York. Now, she takes her own daughters on wilderness adventures so they can connect with nature and learn resiliency. With dozens of trips under her belt, Diane is an expert in minimalist camping, going lightweight, planning, and keeping her kids entertained without screens.

Related Articles

10 Comments

  1. Marley

    Hey
    I just thought I would add my two cents, last summer I got bit by a tick. I was only itchy after I removed the tick. The area was faint red in the mornings and got more red as the day went on. I had to see three different doctors before I was started on antibiotics (being 35 weeks pregnant). I had the blood test done finally and was started on antibiotics 3 weeks after the bite. I did have lab confirmed Lyme disease from that tick bite and never developed the typical bulls eye rash and the bugger itched everyday till I started the antibiotics.

    • Diane

      That’s particularly frustrating to get Lyme while pregnant! Glad you caught it early. Thanks for insight to your experiences. Anyone in doubt about whether the itching is serious should just get tested, if they are able to. It can take several weeks for blood tests to be positive though (as it was when I had Lyme).

  2. Marisa

    This past weekend, I kept feeling stinging in my groin/hip area. Finally I found a tick at the side seam of my underwear. It was not engorged but obviously tried to. I think it bit me injecting saliva several times and it is crazy itchy.
    I really hope that it didn’t have time to inject any bugs.
    Last year, I had no itchiness and not felt or seen a tick on me but got RMSF.
    Wish I could use Frontline Plus on me:-)
    Thanks for the article.

    • Diane

      You can’t use Frontline but you can spray your clothes with Permethrin (wrote about it here: https://momgoescamping.com/permethrin/). It works really well. When not in permethrin clothes, I tuck in ALL clothes (including my pant legs into my boots, which looks super nerdy) and only wearing light-colored clothes. I then can spot ticks pretty quickly before they have a chance to get to any skin.

      Keep an eye out on the bite spot and good luck!

  3. Emily

    I have a tick bite that I removed less than 24 hours after it bit me, it’s head broke off so I had to dig it out. The area is a red bump and it itches and it’s oozing. It doesn’t hurt and isn’t hot but I’m so confused and worried. Any idea what is up?

    • Diane

      Hey! I wrote about tick bites itching here (https://momgoescamping.com/tick-bite-itches/). It’s perfectly normal for a tick bite to itch and it definitely can get even itchier with the head inside your skin causing irritation. As for the oozing, if the ooze is colored or thick, that’s a sign of infection. Clear oozing can just be your skin reacting to the irritation. I have mosquito bites which ooze a bit of clear fluid sometimes when I scratch them too much. See these answers: https://www.quora.com/Whats-the-liquid-that-comes-out-when-you-squeeze-a-bug-bite

      Medical disclaimer: I am not a doctor and this shouldn’t be construed as medical advice! If in doubt, see a doctor.

  4. CD

    Everything itches to me. Doesn’t matter what darn thing bit me.
    Itchiness is how always I find ticks. I swear I went to bed clean but then wake up the next day and feel a bump as I scratch an itch. Gotta run to grab the tweezers first thing in the morning.
    Worst thing of all my bites continue to be itchy for absurd amounts of time. WIll talk to my doctor about this when I get the chance. DIdn’t have these issues as a kid but now a single mosquito bite can drive me borderline insane. Won’t notice how you get them but they’ll drive you mad not healing.

    • Diane

      I am also pretty sensitive to insect bites. I can’t control my itching with mosquito bites and often scratch until they are bleeding (which gets them to stop itching but leaves some scars!). Toothpaste is one of the few things that helps. I oddly find it more effective than anti-itch creams, which do next to nothing for me. Zeolite clay also helps a bit too. I feel for you!!

  5. Tina Roller

    I got bit by a tick months ago. I had the tick removed. I had the bullseye rash. I took two weeks of antibiotics. The rash slowly faded. Now all of a sudden the same spot is insanely itchy again. Any clues why?

    • Diane

      That is very weird. I would definitely check with a doctor in case it is some other infection. Lyme shouldn’t cause itchiness, so it isn’t likely that.

Post your comments

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *