Do Tick Bites Cause Itchy Skin?

Certain regions of the U.S. are more prone to tick-borne disease than others. Pennsylvania, New York, and New Jersey, for instance, were among the top states with the highest case numbers of tick-related illness from 2016 to 2019 (via U.S. News and World Report). However, the risk of getting bit by a tick isn't exclusive to those in the Northeast. Therefore, it's important for all of us to know what kinds of signs and symptoms to be on the lookout for that indicate we may have been bitten.

In the U.S., you're most likely to come across a blacklegged tick, Lone Star tick, or dog tick, according to Cleveland Clinic experts. Feeding on the blood of humans or animals, these parasites like to cozy up behind the knees, between the legs, on the neck, or within the ears, belly button, or armpits. Unlike the sting of a wasp, however, tick bites aren't always immediately noticeable. For some people, a rash or small, solid bump may be all they experience. For others, is it possible that tick bites can also leave us with itchy skin, much like a mosquito bite?

The more you get bit, the greater the likelihood for itchy skin

For some people, itching can indeed accompany a tick bite. However, this is more often the case for those who experience recurrent tick bites as the body progressively becomes more adept at identifying the itch-causing proteins in a tick's saliva, according to American Family Care (AFC). In fact, AFC cites a 2005 study published in Emerging Infectious Diseases in which researchers determined that a person was twice as likely to experience itchy skin with a second tick bite. These odds doubled yet again, from two to four tick bites. For those who have suffered perhaps only one tick bite, however, it's these same proteins that actually stop our skin from itching to ensure that the tick gets its fill. Although highly uncommon, some people may experience excessive itching in the event of an allergic reaction to a tick bite.

While itching can be associated with certain tick-borne conditions, it usually doesn't occur instantly (via Cleveland Clinic). Most people are concerned about Lyme disease, but itchy skin that comes on promptly after a tick bite or lasts for only a few days is generally not indicative of Lyme disease. In some Lyme disease cases, itchy lesions may form on the skin's surface, reports Healthline. Yet this is not the case for most patients.

Itch relief and Lyme disease prevention

It's the blacklegged tick that's responsible for Lyme disease, reports the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). It is estimated that over 470,000 infections are diagnosed and treated annually across the country. Often characterized by the development of a ring-shaped rash, more advanced stages of infection may involve nerve pain, irregular heartbeat, facial palsy, and more. To help reduce your chances for developing Lyme disease, it's important to exercise prevention. Steer clear of places where ticks can be found, such as in humid or wooded environments. If you must venture into these areas, stay out of the brush and stick to clear walking paths as best as possible. Use DEET-containing bug repellent and do a thorough self-inspection once back inside.

To help ease frustrating itching at home, experts at AFC suggest using an over-the-counter (OTC) hydrocortisone cream on the bite area. One can alternatively use tea tree oil, lavender, or a combination of water and baking soda.