Healthdirect Free Australian health advice you can count on.

Medical problem? Call 1800 022 222. If you need urgent medical help, call triple zero immediately

healthdirect Australia is a free service where you can talk to a nurse or doctor who can help you know what to do.

beginning of content

Tick bites

5-minute read

Ticks are parasites that feed on human and animal blood. A tick bite is usually harmless, but sometimes it can cause an allergic reaction or serious illness. If you have a tick bite, it is very important to remove the tick as soon as possible.

Types of tick bite

There are about 70 different sorts of tick in Australia. They are especially common along the east coast. Some have a flat body and a long mouth, while some look wrinkly and leathery.

In Australia, most tick bites are caused by the paralysis tick Ixodes holocyclus (sometimes called a grass tick, seed tick or bush tick). They grow from an egg to a larva (about 1mm long and brown) and then to a nymph (about 2mm long and pale brown). An adult paralysis tick is about 1cm long and a grey-blue colour.

Ticks need blood to grow. They crawl up grass or twigs and drop onto passing animals or humans, attaching themselves to the soft skin to feed. They inject a substance to stop the blood clotting. Their saliva can also be poisonous.

Some people are allergic to tick bites. Others, usually children, can develop a condition called tick paralysis. It is also possible for ticks to pass on several illnesses to humans.

Tick bite symptoms

If you have been bitten, usually you will just notice redness and swelling around the tick bite. This will disappear once you remove the tick.

Symptoms of tick paralysis include:

Symptoms of an allergic reaction to tick bites include:

What to do after a tick bite

If you have been outdoors and you have an itch, try not to scratch it. Look at the area first. Ticks in the larvae or nymph stages can be very small – they might look like just a black dot.

Unless you are allergic to ticks, there is no need to see a doctor. Remove the tick as safely and quickly as possible and keep an eye out for symptoms of tick-related illnesses (see below). Don't scratch or pick at the tick.

If you are allergic to ticks, it is best to have a doctor remove the tick. You should have your emergency adrenaline autoinjector on hand and go to the nearest emergency department.

Remember that symptoms of other illnesses caused by the tick can develop or become worse after the tick has been removed.

Some people develop a serious allergy to meat, and products containing gelatine, after they have had a tick bite. This will need to be diagnosed by a doctor who specialises in allergies (called an allergist or immunologist).

Tick bite treatment

If you are not allergic to ticks, you should remove the tick as soon as possible. Try not to squeeze or agitate the tick since it will be more likely to inject its saliva into you.

First, kill the tick by spraying it with a product that contains ether (such as Wart-Off Freeze, Aerostart or Elastoplast Cold Spray). Then, using fine-tipped forceps (not household tweezers), grab the tick as close to the skin as possible and pull it upwards using steady pressure.

Do not jerk or twist the tick. Don't use methylated spirits, kerosene, petroleum jelly, nail polish, oil or alcohol, or use a lighted match. These don't work and may cause the tick to burrow deeper into your skin.

If you are allergic to ticks, do not try to remove the tick — kill it with a spray that contains ether. If it's your first allergic reaction, go straight to a hospital emergency department. If you have had allergic reactions before, talk to your doctor about how to remove the tick and whether you will need to see a doctor every time. Always carry your adrenaline autoinjector.

If you have mammalian meat allergy, you will need to avoid eating any form of meat at all and anything containing gelatine. Consider wearing a medical bracelet since you might also be allergic to some products used in hospitals.

Tick bite prevention

  • Keep your skin covered in areas where there might be ticks. Wear a long-sleeved shirt, tuck your trousers into your socks and wear a wide-brimmed hat.
  • Avoid bush and long grass, especially after rain.
  • Use an insect repellent that contains DEET or picaridin.
  • You can put an insecticide that contains permethrin onto your clothes.
  • Brush your clothes and check your skin for ticks when you come inside.
  • Place clothes in a hot dryer for 20 minutes to kill ticks.

When to seek help

See your doctor if you can't remove a tick properly and part of it is still left in your skin. You should also see a doctor if you develop signs of an infection, such as:

  • increasing pain, swelling and redness
  • red streaks leading from the area
  • pus
  • fever

Tick bites can sometimes cause other illnesses such as rickettsia infections, Queensland tick typhus, Flinders Island spotted fever and possibly Lyme disease or Lyme disease-like conditions. However, whether these are linked to a tick-born illness in Australia is still being investigated.

See your doctor if you have had a tick bite and you experience any of these symptoms for more than a week:

  • flu-like symptoms
  • a new rash
  • pain in your joints
  • tiredness

More information

Last reviewed: May 2018

Need more information?

These trusted information partners have more on this topic.

Top results

Lyme disease (borreliosis; tick bites) information | myVMC

Lyme disease is an immune reaction to a bacteria transmitted by ticks. It causes rash, arthritis and heart and neurological problems.

Read more on myVMC – Virtual Medical Centre website

Tick Allergy - Australasian Society of Clinical Immunology and Allergy (ASCIA)

Allergic reactions to ticks range from mild (with large local swelling and inflammation at the site of a tick bite) to severe (anaphylaxis). To prevent allergic reactions to ticks do NOT forcibly remove the tick. The options are to:Seek medical assistance to remove the tick; ORKill the tick first by using a product that rapidly freezes the tick, to prevent it from injecting more allergen-containing saliva, then remove it as soon as practical and in as safe a setting as possible.

Read more on ASCIA – Australasian Society of Clinical Immunology and Allergy website

Insect and Tick Allergy - Australasian Society of Clinical Immunology and Allergy (ASCIA)

The Australasian Society of Clinical Immunology and Allergy (ASCIA) is the peak professional body of clinical immunology and allergy in Australia and New Zealand. ASCIA promotes and advances the study and knowledge of immune and allergic diseases, including asthma.

Read more on ASCIA – Australasian Society of Clinical Immunology and Allergy website

Allergic Rhinitis Treatment Plan - Australasian Society of Clinical Immunology and Allergy (ASCIA)

ASCIA Treatment Plan for Allergic Rhinitis 2015226.89 KB Allergic Rhinitis is also known as Hay Fever.This treatment plan has been developed by ASCIA as a medical document to be completed (with type in fields and tick boxes) and signed by a medical practitioner:

Read more on ASCIA – Australasian Society of Clinical Immunology and Allergy website

Insect allergy (bites and stings) - Australasian Society of Clinical Immunology and Allergy (ASCIA)

Allergic reactions to Bites and Stings, Jack Jumper Ant Allergy, Tick Allergy

Read more on ASCIA – Australasian Society of Clinical Immunology and Allergy website

Food Packaging and Labels: Guide to Making Healthy Food Choices | myVMC

Many consumers pick foods depending on the attraction and temptation of the label on the front of the food packaging, but to become educated consumers, we should turn to the sides and back of the food product and read the labels carefully. There are many things that the labels can tell us, and we can use these to help us pick nutritious and healthy items.

Read more on myVMC – Virtual Medical Centre website

Ticks - Factsheets

NSW Health Factsheet on ticks

Read more on NSW Health website

Lyme disease - Lab Tests Online AU

Why and when to get tested for the anti-borrelia burgdorferi IgM/IgG test

Read more on Lab Tests Online website

Lyme disease - myDr.com.au

Lyme disease is a tick-borne illness. Find out about the symptoms of Lyme disease, diagnosis, tests and treatment.

Read more on myDr website

Bites and stings | Sydney Children's Hospitals Network

In Australia there are many insects, spiders and snakes that bite and sting

Read more on Sydney Children's Hospitals Network website

Healthdirect 24hr 7 days a week hotline

24 hour health advice you can count on

1800 022 222

Government Accredited with over 140 information partners

We are a government-funded service, providing quality, approved health information and advice

Australian Government, health department logo ACT Government logo New South Wales government, health department logo Northen Territory Government logo Government of South Australia, health department logo Tasmanian government logo Government of Western Australia, health department logo