I don't ever remember ticks being a problem when I was a kid. I don't think I'd ever even saw one until I was a teenager and a grape-sized thing rolled off my cousin's dog...which happened to be a fully engorged tick, and was completely and utterly disgusting, by the way. Nowadays, they seem to be everywhere, at least here in the Northeast they do, so I set out to find a natural, reliable method of keeping my family safeguarded against ticks -- deer ticks specifically -- and the debilitating Lyme's Disease they may carry.
Lyme's Disease takes a lot out of you, and it takes a looong time to
recover. It has become one of the greatest things I fear ever happening
to my children. That's why I began researching various methods and
products to keep my family safe against ticks. I'm not against commercial products, but I'm not all excited about them either; there are still lots of unknowns and risks I think. And they're usually super expensive, too. Turns out, I found a reliable, cost-effective solution
for us that is natural and easy as pie; you just have to be diligent about it.
Here's what you need for non-toxic, natural and effective tick repellant: Tea Tree Oil. And a little water. That's it! You can fill a small spray bottle with water and add a few drops of tea tree oil, shake together, and mist over your clothes and exposed skin. Obviously take care when spraying near faces - we spray our hands and then pat on our faces, carefully avoiding eyes and nostrils. OR, simply add a few drops to a washcloth, dampen a bit, and use as a wipe - this works best for our dog, who isn't the biggest fan of having stinky water squirted on him. And believe me, tea tree oil is, umm, fragrant. As in pungent. And just plain putrid smelling. A tick, or anything with the sense of smell for that matter, is sure to steer clear of you when you're sporting that unmistakable, overpowering scent. But that's exactly the point, right? There are other oils too, but I tried this one first and never found the need to experiment with any others. Look online and you'll find several options listed.
Here's a little aside for you, too: tea tree oil is also great for small cuts and even discolored (fungal) toe nails. Who knew?
I have been relying on this for three summers now, and the evidence has been clear. Those times we forget the tea tree oil, we find as many as 10 or 11 ticks (at one time!) crawling on us, the kids and our dog. Jonah holds the all-time high of 13 ticks, just on him! They seem to love him! It makes me nauseous just thinking about it! And the rest of the time? No ticks. Zero. Nada.
We don't do much of the pants-tucked-in-socks stuff because usually we're wearing shorts anyway, but lighter colored shirts do help you spot the nasty things that are heading north on your body. It's such a pain, but we routinely check scalps, behind ears, under waistbands, and ankles and armpits, all which tend to be hot spots for hungry ticks.
When we do discover an embedded tick, it's crucial to remove it as soon as possible, with the head intact. Physicians and experts are now saying that the disease can be transmitted in as little as four hours after you've been bitten, so move swiftly and get that tick out! We bought this tick removal tool years ago and have always been able to remove the entire tick with it. When we lost it, we tried a handful of other items but none of them worked as well. You should be able to purchase Ticked Off at any large pharmacy store, or online (though the shipping costs will give you a stroke.) I think the key to successful removal once the tool has "scooped up" the tick is to gently pull the tool upwards, kind of suspending the tick for several seconds, and then to yank it out sharply and quickly. Don't tug a little bit at a time or be too wimpy about it -- that just makes kids more nervous than they already are, and then it gets harder and harder to get the job done. Be confident and yank it out! We generally insist that our doctor take a look at questionable bites, especially if it's unclear if the entire head has been removed. If we don't know how long a tick has been embedded (usually we discover them within an hour or two) we have taken antibiotics as a precaution.
There are mixed theories regarding applying vaseline, nail polish remover, or even tea tree oil to an embedded tick in the hopes that it will back itself up "to breathe" and therefore un-imbed itself. In the past, I did all of these things out of sheer panic, but nothing has worked as well as the Ticked Off tool. And no, I'm not a paid rep or anything, just so you know. I've read enough recently about how this approach may actually cause the tick to release more spit into your skin and bloodstream, and quicker than normal, to try and find a way to breathe. Which is what you don't want. I'm sticking with the removal tool. Oh, and flush the tick. I made the mistake of letting it soak, I guess you could say, all in the name of conserving water, and each of those times, the little Houdinis escaped. Ew. That's really really gross to think about.
I think everyone knows by now that the telltale sign of trouble is the red bull's eye rash or mark on the skin, but there are other things to be concerned with as well. Tick bites typically itch. Like mad. Like, rip your skin off mad. It's helpful to apply an anti-itch cream after washing the area, and then covering with a band-aid to reduce the temptation to scratch it raw. IMPORTANT NOTE: do not use cortisone products on ethnic skin because it will permanently discolor and lighten the skin. We've learned this the most heartbreaking way, and we want others to be aware, since we'd never heard anything about it before; seek alternatives. Don't be surprised if a tick bite is still itchy and bothersome up to one full year later. It's bad. Ticks are just plain bad.
My father has been suffering with Lyme's Disease this year, and it's been awful! The symptoms leave you feeling achy and uncomfortable, but my poor Dad says the heavy medication to combat it makes him feel even worse. Pretty bleak prospects in general, but thankfully, he is on the road to recovery and we all just want him to feel like his old, active self again. The old adage fits here as in so many cases: an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Protect yourself and your little ones from ticks and the dangers of Lyme's Disease!
As for our beloved doggie, we do not use Advantix or the other commercial repellants, mainly because Ryder gets on our beds, our furniture, and there's something that doesn't sit right with me about a substance guaranteed to kill and repel ticks that's now all over my kid's bedding and pillows. Yuck. He gets a Lyme vaccine annually, but for the day to day stuff, we check him often and the ticks we find usually haven't even embedded themselves yet. The Ticked Off tool works great on him, though now when he sees it, I notice a look of dread and panic in his sad little puppy eyes. Ticks bites aren't fun for doggies either; nor is Lyme's Disease, though dogs have a much better recovery rate than humans do.
It may also be worth noting that I am not a doctor and have no intention of becoming a doctor, but our pediatrician was on board with this natural solution when I discussed it with him.