What To Do If A Tick's Head Gets Stuck When You're Trying To Remove It, Because It Happens All The Time

If you're the type of person who lives for the summer, you might spend the rest of the year in a state of denial about the not-so-great stuff that comes with the warmer months, such as... ticks. Unfortunately, ticks and Lyme Disease are as much a part of the summertime experience as lemonade and sprinklers (in a very different way). And no matter what you do, prevention-wise, some tenacious ticks always seem to get through. That means a removal is in order, but it's not always easy. What should you do if the tick's head gets stuck?

Ticks can be pretty tricky to remove, as you may already be aware. Unfortunately, as someone who was diagnosed with Lyme Disease twice, I have a bit of personal experience with this one myself. If you've never been through the tick removal process, though, you might be surprised at how hard it can be to do. Some ticks are tiny and impossible to see. Other ticks (if they've been hanging out for awhile at the blood buffet) are big and bloated and exasperatingly easy to accidentally pop. And still others just refuse to come out in one piece.

Ticks in that last category are probably the most aggravating of all. Nobody wants to go around with the body part of an unwelcome insect invader stuck in their skin (and certainly no one wants that to happen to their kids, either). Plus, it almost seems dangerous. Would leaving the head in make the transmission of Lyme more likely, or lead to some other infection?

shishiga/Fotolia

To prevent this separation from happening in the first place, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention gives the following instructions on its website for proper and safe tick removal:

  1. Use fine-tipped tweezers to grip the tick as close to the surface of the skin as possible.
  2. Pull upward using steady, even pressure, but be sure not to twist or jerk the tick, which can "cause the mouth-parts to break off and remain in the skin" (ewwww). If that does happen, you should "remove the mouth-parts with tweezers" (again, ewwww). If they can't be easily removed, "leave it alone" and allow the skin to heal.
  3. After you remove the tick, clean the bite area well with rubbing alcohol or soap and water and wash your own hands, too.
  4. Don't crush a tick with your fingers; instead, get rid of a live tick by putting it in alcohol, placing it in a bag or container that's tightly sealed, wrapping it up with tape, or flushing it down the toilet.

And no matter what hacks you've heard about, the CDC also warns against such methods as "'painting' the tick with nail polish or petroleum jelly, or using heat to make the tick detach from the skin," as your goal is to get the tick out as quickly as possible instead of waiting for it to leave on its own time. Anyway, let's assume that something goes horribly awry at some point in the removal and the tick's head and/or "mouth-parts" don't come out with the rest of it. If that does happen, according to the CDC, you should "remove the mouth-parts with tweezers" (again, ewwww). If they can't be easily removed, "leave it alone" and allow the skin to heal.

I know, I know... leave it alone?! Really? Just... let the skin heal up with tick mouth-parts in there? Apparently, yes. The Seattle Children's Hospital website concurs, adding that after removing any "large" pieces of the head and cleaning the skin, you can use a clean needle to scrape off smaller pieces; still, if some remain, the skin will "slowly heal and shed it" (so at least it won't be in there forever). If, however, a large piece of the head remains, the hospital recommends calling your child's doctor. You should also follow up with a professional if a fever or rash develops in the next four weeks, the bite starts to look infected, or your child shows any other new or strange symptoms (fatigue, pain, mood changes, etc.).

And, remember, prevention is key (even if it's not foolproof).