Helping Kids Deal With Ticks: Dr. Starbuck Explains

Aug 1, 2017

Hi! I’m Dr. Jamison Starbuck, a naturopathic family physician. I’m here today with health tips on ticks.

Eew, creepy. Ticks! It’s tick season in Montana. They’re hanging around in tall grasses in the woods and fields. Because ticks can bite us, it’s good to learn a few things about them in order to stay healthy.

Ticks are not insects, they are animals. They are invertebrate animals which means animals without a backbone. Ticks are in a family called ‘arthropod arachnids’. A pretty cool family name, huh? Spiders are also arthropod arachnids. Animals in this family have eight legs, two body segments, no wings, and they can’t chew. But they can bite! And that makes it important to know how to protect ourselves from getting a tick bite and how to take care if we do.

Here are my tips: When you hike or play outside in spring, avoid tall grasses. Stay on the trail when you hike. Play outside in places where the grass is low, like a park or your backyard. Ticks like to sit on the ends of tall blades of grass waiting for an animal to come by. Ticks can’t jump, but when you brush the grass, a tick can grab at you with its legs and cling to you. Then it will stay with you, coming along for a ride while you walk and play. It will crawl around on your clothing and can eventually find its way to your skin where it can bite you.

A second good thing to do to help resist ticks is to wear white or light colored clothing when you walk in the hills or forest. If you have light clothing on, you can easily see ticks walking around on your clothes and you can get rid of them before they bite. Wear long pants to protect your legs. It’s a good idea to tuck your pant legs into your socks to keep ticks from crawling up your leg.

Third, when you get home from hiking or playing outside, do a tick check. Take off all the clothes you were wearing and check your whole body. Ticks are brown and about the size of a lentil bean so you’ll be able to spot them easily. Get your parents to help. You’ll need them to check the places you can’t see, like your scalp and hair, and neck and back.

Tick bites don’t hurt so you can have one without even knowing it. Since the only food that ticks eat is blood, they are hungry when they bite. They attach themselves to you, sucking your blood, and they stay there. If you find a tick stuck on you, don’t freak out. Just quietly show your Mom or Dad. They will get tweezers and gently pull it out. After the tick is out, your parents should wash the bite area with soap and hot water. Your skin might be a little red and swollen around the bite, and it might even itch. If this happens, put ice cubes in a towel and hold them on the bite for 10 minutes. This will help you feel a lot better.

Save any tick you pull out in a sealed plastic bag. In Montana we are lucky because we do not have the kind of ticks that cause a serious illness called Lyme disease, so here most tick bites are harmless. But ticks carry bacteria and every once in a while, people get sick a day or two after a tick bite. If that happens, your parents will take you to a doctor. The doctor will know best how to treat you if they can identify the tick that bit you.

Lots of people think ticks are disgusting and scary. But some people disagree. Like my friend Laura, who is a tick scientist at the University of Montana. She knows a lot about ticks. “Under the microscope,” she says, “ticks are beautiful – their bodies sparkle!" But even Laura does not want to get a tick bite and she follows tick precautions. This spring don’t be afraid of ticks, and don’t let them keep you from having lots of fun in the great outdoors.

I’m Dr. Jamison Starbuck and I’m wishing you well.