Inflamed tick bite - what should you do?
A tick bite usually goes unnoticed at first, as it is usually painless. Only later can a black point on the skin, the tick, be discovered that has attached itself to it. Even if the tick is removed at this point, it is not uncommon for the tick bite to become infected. In most cases, there is a slight reddening of the bite, which disappears after a few days. This is a natural reaction of the immune system to the exogenous substances that get under the skin through the tick. Occasionally, however, an inflamed tick bite can also indicate a serious infection, so a detailed investigation of the inflamed tick bite is often necessary.
What are the causes?
In most cases, an infected tick bite is the natural reaction of the immune system to foreign substances that have penetrated the body. If the tick sticks, it must use its bite tool to create a small lesion (wound) in the skin. This results in an immediate reaction of the body's own defenses, which leads to a slight inflammatory reaction. Saliva can also be transferred from the tick.
Other pathogens (for example from normal skin germs) can then settle in the small wound (even after removing the tick). These would cause a slightly more pronounced inflammation. An inflamed tick bite can also be an expression of an infection with TBE (viruses) or Borrelia (bacteria).These diseases are typically transmitted by ticks and initially lead to local inflammation of the tick bite. The pathogens can then spread in the body and cause further symptoms. Typically there is an inflammatory reaction throughout the body, which manifests itself in a fever and other flu-like symptoms.
How is an infected tick bite diagnosed?
The diagnosis of a tick bite should initially be based on the medical history. The attending physician can find out whether there is a risk of a tick bite (staying in the forest, in tall grass, occupational exposure) or whether a tick has been discovered by the person concerned. Signs of inflammation such as redness, swelling, overheating and pain can be felt at the bite site itself. In order to rule out further tick bites, the entire body should then be searched for ticks. In particular, skin folds (armpit, groin) must be carefully examined. If an infection with Borrelia or TBE is suspected, laboratory tests should prove the pathogen.
What are the symptoms?
When a tick bite becomes infected, local symptoms such as reddening and swelling initially appear. Painful restriction of movement in adjacent joints can also occur. If the inflammation continues, a generalized reaction of the immune system can occur. This is characterized primarily by a fever, but can also cause other flu-like symptoms such as headache and body aches as well as fatigue and exhaustion.
When infected with Borrelia, the so-called wandering redness can also occasionally be observed. The reddening spreads in a circle, and the skin is already fading again in the area of the bite. Read more about this at: Symptoms of borreliosis
Pain from an infected tick bite
A tick bite does not usually experience pain at first. Instead, tick bites are mostly incidental findings that are discovered on the body after a day in the forest, so they are usually noticed by the local inflammation with reddening and swelling. Only when the inflammation has developed properly can the affected area pain or itch. If pain in neighboring joints or muscle pain and headache then occur, this can indicate that the inflammation is spreading.
Fever / chills from an infected tick bite
Fever and chills are symptoms that indicate a general body immune response. Chills are a symptom that usually occurs when the fever rises. Fever can develop with a spreading local inflammation of the tick bite with simple germs from the skin, but more often it indicates a more severe infection with TBE or Borrelia. Typically, headache and body aches occur at the same time, so that the symptoms can also be mistaken for summer flu. If the body temperature rises again after a fever-free interval (after days to weeks), this can indicate the pathogen has spread throughout the body.
When do you have to see a doctor?
A tick bite doesn't always need to be seen and treated by a doctor. However, if you do not succeed in pulling the tick out completely, the remains (the head often gets stuck in the skin or parts of the bite tool are still in the skin) should be removed by a doctor. In particular, signs of inflammation at the bite site (reddening, swelling, overheating, pain, functional restrictions in neighboring joints) should be seen by a doctor, as they can be an indication of a bacterial or viral infection of the bite site. If you also have fever or flu symptoms, this is a sign that a doctor should be seen.
How is an infected tick bite treated?
After a tick bite, the first thing that matters most is removing the tick. This can be done with tick tweezers or a tick card. The removal should be done as carefully as possible so that the tick can be removed completely. You should not press the tick's body when pulling it out, so that as few pathogens as possible can be transmitted by the tick. If the complete removal does not succeed, a doctor should remove the remaining parts of the tick (e.g. biting tools).
Local inflammation after a tick bite can initially be treated purely symptomatically. It makes sense to cool the affected area as it relieves pain and reduces swelling. In addition, pain-relieving medication can also be taken if the pain is severe. Since there is always a risk of infection with pathogens such as TBE or Borrelia when the tick bite becomes infected, therapy should be introduced if necessary after a diagnosis for these two pathogens.
Therapy for TBE disease is purely symptomatic. If, for example, a fever develops over time, this can be combated with antipyretic medication. Borreliosis, on the other hand, can be treated with antibiotics (doxycycline).
How long does the inflammation last?
Once the tick bite has become infected, the symptoms usually go away after a few days. Especially if it is an infection with local pathogens (for example with naturally occurring skin germs). Even if infections with TBE or Borrelia are underlying, these usually heal without consequences. Occasionally, however, serious complications arise, such as the pathogen spreading to the brain. This can cause nerve damage and brain inflammation, while borreliosis can also affect other organs such as eyes, skin and heart. In the worst case, there is severe inflammation in the area of the brain, which can be fatal.
How is the disease progressing?
An inflamed tick bite is usually an expression of an infection with TBE viruses or Borrelia (bacteria).
Infection with TBE runs in two phases: After about one to two weeks, a fever can occur along with other flu-like symptoms. This is followed by a symptom-free phase. Then the fever comes back with signs of meningitis.
In contrast, there are three stages in Lyme disease. In stage I, a wandering reddening occurs locally at the bite site, fever, headache, pain in the limbs and itching can also develop. In the second stage (early spread) there is nerve damage with pain and dysfunction. The heart can also be affected by the infection. Months or years later, the disease progresses to stage III (late spread). Skin changes, joint problems and signs of brain inflammation develop. The eyes can be affected in all three stages.
Inflamed tick bite on my dog
Tick bites are not uncommon in dogs, as the animals are often in areas with a high number of ticks (forest, meadows with tall grass). Therefore, dogs should be checked thoroughly for ticks. Even if this is made difficult by the thick fur of the animals. If you find a tick on your dog, you should carefully remove it without crushing the tick. The earlier the tick is pulled out of the skin, the less likely it is that the bite site will become infected or that pathogens will be transmitted. The area should then be checked regularly for several weeks. If there are signs of inflammation, a visit to the vet makes sense. This can clarify infections with Borrelia, for example, and treat them with antibiotics if necessary.