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Due to an innate inclination towards outdoor play, children are particularly susceptible to tick bites and therefore parents need to know how to prevent them. However, tick bites can occur in people of all ages, especially those who tend to spend time outdoors in tick-prone environments. Thus, prevention is key at any age!

This article takes a closer look at five expert-recommended ways to prevent tick bites and shares our favorite insect repellents to ward off ticks. 

5 Ways To Prevent Tick Bites

Although there is some inherent risk in spending time outdoors during tick season, I believe the benefits of spending time outdoors outweigh the risks when observing the following preventative measures recommended by experts. 

1. Wear Protective Clothing

One of the most important steps in tick bite prevention is your choice of clothing!

A family hikes in long sleeves and pants to prevent tick bites.

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Ticks are more likely to attach themselves to exposed areas of the body. Therefore, it’s necessary to wear hats, long-sleeved shirts, long pants, and tall socks that serve as a physical barrier against tick bites (4). 

What’s more, studies have shown that permethrin-treated clothing is especially effective at preventing tick bites (5). Permethrin is an insecticide that will irritate a tick as it gets close to or lands on the treated fabric. It may be wise to invest in permethrin-treated clothing if you live in a tick-heavy area or spend time outdoors during peak tick season. 

However, permethrin-treated clothing does not provide complete protection, loses efficacy the more you wash them, and should be kept away from infants or young children who may suckle or chew on the treated fabric. Furthermore, permethrin may be a possible endocrine disruptor and so should not be sprayed directly onto the skin (5,6).

2. Observe Safe Hiking Practices

When enjoying the great outdoors, it’s important to look for any possible threats, including ticks!

Children hike with walking sticks.

Ticks are hard to spot, so it’s helpful to be aware of their preferred hiding places and when they are most active. Ticks are most active from April to October, and the most common regions for ticks in the U.S. include the northeastern, upper midwestern, and mid-Atlantic states (1). Ticks like to hide in tall grasses, dense wooded areas, fields, and shrubberies. If you’re hiking in any of these areas, be sure to use protective clothing, bug spray, and an end-of-day tick check as described below. 

To further evade ticks while hiking, stay on the marked trail and avoid hiking in the deep woods or areas overgrown with grass and bushes. If you decide to explore off-trail, bring a hiking stick to move shrubbery aside in order to reduce contact with potentially tick-laden plants. Once home, take a shower within two hours and wash your clothing in hot water and dry on high heat.* 

*Research shows that temperatures between 115°F – 135°F are effective at killing ticks attached to clothing (4).

3. Maintain A Tick-Safe Yard

Even if you live in an area where ticks are endemic, there are things you can do to make your yard a safe place for kids to play.

A small tick rests on the edge of a large green leaf.

Since ticks don’t fly or jump but rather cling to the tips of grasses and shrubs waiting for a host (animal or person) to draw near, it’s imperative to keep grass and hedges trimmed and the yard free from debris where ticks can hide. It’s also recommended to move playsets and children’s toys away from shrubbery to keep ticks at bay from your loved ones and pets.

To make your yard less appealing to ticks, consider growing plants known to repel them. Some suggestions include lavender, rosemary, marigolds, garlic, or eucalyptus (14). Luckily, these come with the bonus perks of beauty and aroma! 

4. Check For Ticks 

Even if you’ve done everything possible to prevent tick bites, they can still happen. That’s why, after leaving an active tick zone, you should carefully check your clothes and body for ticks. 

A mother checks her son's head for ticks as they leave a wooded area.

The head, groin, neck, and underarms are areas where ticks are most frequently found on the body; however, ticks can attach anywhere. Remove a tick right away if you find one. And, if you suspect a bite occurred, keep the tick in a sealed plastic bag in your freezer to show your doctor. Monitor for symptoms*, and if any arise, seek medical attention right away. 

Parents should check their children’s clothes and bodies for ticks. And don’t forget to frequently check and bathe your furry friends as they are prone to bring ticks into the home.

*If there is pain or itching at the site of the tick bite, arnica oil may help relieve discomfort. To learn more, see Arnica Oil For Topical Pain Relief – Dr. Green Mom.

5. Use Insect Repellent

Insect repellent should be sprayed directly on the skin and clothing to provide adequate protection from insect bites.

A child walking in the woods is sprayed with insect repellent.

There are two common active ingredients in insect repellents designed to repel ticks and other pests: PMD and DEET. These are the two repellents that I prefer when in tick-country. Essential oils can be effective as a natural insect repellent; however, I prefer to use them in lower risk situations, such as when mosquitoes or black flies are the main concern. 

Now let’s take a closer look at insect repellents to help you determine which is the best choice for your family. 

PMD 

PMD (p-menthane-3,8-diol), found in oil of lemon eucalyptus*, is a natural compound that has been found effective in repelling mosquitoes and ticks (10). PMD has the added benefit of being natural and less toxic than DEET; however, PMD and DEET seem to be equally effective at repelling pests. 

Unfortunately, not enough research has been done on the effects of PMD usage on children under the age of three. Therefore, DEET used within the safe guidelines listed below may be the safer choice for little ones.

* If you’re looking for a non-commercial bug spray that contains PMD, keep in mind when looking at ingredients, that oil of lemon eucalyptus is not the same thing as lemon eucalyptus essential oil, which has a very small amount of PMD. Always look for oil of lemon eucalyptus. 

DEET

DEET (N,N-diethyl-meta-toluamide) is a synthetic chemical that has long been considered the gold standard of insect repellents (10). It blocks an insect’s ability to detect human scent, effectively deterring a wide range of pests. 

While DEET is effective, I usually opt for PMD as there have been some case reports of DEET causing encephalopathy in small children when used in excess of the recommended usage listed below (11). 

Though I believe PMD is likely safe, there isn’t substantial research to offer guidance on its usage for children younger than three years old. Therefore, in this population (6 months-3 years), I usually opt for DEET when used within the guidelines below. Infants less than 6 months old should not use a DEET containing repellent.

The following DEET usage recommendations* by Health Canada are the best research-based guidelines (12).

DEET Usage Recommendations
  • 0-6 months: For infants less than 6 months old, do not use DEET.
    • Instead, use a mosquito net when babies are outdoors in a crib or stroller.
  • 6-24 months: use 5-10% DEET. (Not to exceed 10%). 
    • Do not apply the product more than once per day.
  • 2-12 years: use 5-10% DEET.
    • Apply the product up to 3 times daily
    • Do not use a DEET product on a daily basis for more than a month.
  • Children and adults 12+: use up to 30% DEET.

*Please consult your healthcare provider for assistance in deciding what options are best for your family.

Essential Oils

Within the Dr. Green Mom community, essential oils are a popular choice for bug spray because they smell great and are an easily accessible natural option. Though I love these features, unfortunately I find that essential oils aren’t as reliable as PMD and DEET when it comes to repelling ticks. That does not mean, however, that I don’t use essential oil bug sprays. Henry’s Homestead Bug Spray is our family favorite. We use this spray when mosquitoes or black flies are our main concern.  

Some essential oils that are known to deter insects include citronella, thyme, peppermint, cedar, patchouli, and clove (13). Always do a small patch test on the skin before using, as essential oils may cause skin irritation, and avoid using on young babies as certain essential oils may be toxic to developing systems. 

Summary

Preventing tick bites is the most effective way to safeguard your family from the health risks associated with tick-borne diseases. Implementing expert-recommended preventative measures are vital to ward off ticks and your best bet to avoid getting bitten. By wearing protective clothing, observing safe hiking practices, maintaining a tick-free yard, performing regular tick checks, and using insect repellents, you can reduce the likelihood of a tick bite and enjoy outdoor activities with peace of mind. 

References:

  1. Kugeler, K. J., et al. (2022). Changing Trends in Age and Sex Distributions of Lyme Disease-United States, 1992-2016. Public health reports (Washington, D.C. : 1974), 137(4), 655–659. https://doi.org/10.1177/00333549211026777 
  2. Read, Jennifer S. (2019); Tickborne Diseases in Children in the United States. Pediatr Rev August, 40 (8): 381–397. https://doi.org/10.1542/pir.2018-0304 
  3. Bryant, K. A., et al. (2000). Clinical manifestations of tick-borne infections in children. Clinical and diagnostic laboratory immunology, 7(4), 523–527. https://doi.org/10.1128/CDLI.7.4.523-527.2000 
  4. Rahlenbeck, S., et al. (2016). Prevention of tick-borne diseases: an overview. The British journal of general practice : the journal of the Royal College of General Practitioners, 66(650), 492–494. https://doi.org/10.3399/bjgp16X687013 
  5. Health Canada (2020). Permethrin-treated clothing. https://www.canada.ca/en/public-health/services/publications/diseases-conditions/permethrin-treated-clothing.html 
  6. Sheikh, I. A., et al. (2021). Structural Aspects of Potential Endocrine-Disrupting Activity of Stereoisomers for a Common Pesticide Permethrin against Androgen Receptor. Biology, 10(2), 143. https://doi.org/10.3390/biology10020143 
  7. Buhner, Stephen Harrod, “Herbal Antibiotics,” Storey Publishing, North Adams, Massachusetts, 2012 
  8. Venturella, G., et al (2021). Medicinal Mushrooms: Bioactive Compounds, Use, and Clinical Trials. International journal of molecular sciences, 22(2), 634. https://doi.org/10.3390/ijms22020634 
  9. Thompson, A., et al. (2023). A Comprehensive Review of Herbal Supplements Used for Persistent Symptoms Attributed to Lyme Disease. Integrative medicine (Encinitas, Calif.), 22(1), 30–38. 
  10. Pages, F., et al (2014). Tick repellents for human use: prevention of tick bites and tick-borne diseases. Vector borne and zoonotic diseases (Larchmont, N.Y.), 14(2), 85–93. https://doi.org/10.1089/vbz.2013.1410
  11. Briassoulis, G., et al. (2001). Toxic encephalopathy associated with use of DEET insect repellents: a case analysis of its toxicity in children. Human & experimental toxicology, 20(1), 8–14. Toxic encephalopathy associated with use of DEET insect repellents: a case analysis of its toxicity in children – G Briassoulis, M Narlioglou, T Hatzis, 2001 
  12. Health Canada. (n.d.). Insect Repellents. https://www.canada.ca/en/health-canada/services/about-pesticides/insect-repellents.html  
  13. Maia, M. F., & Moore, S. J. (2011). Plant-based insect repellents: a review of their efficacy, development and testing. Malaria journal, 10 Suppl 1(Suppl 1), S11. https://doi.org/10.1186/1475-2875-10-S1-S11 
  14. Fischhoff, I. R., et al. (2019). Assessing Effectiveness of Recommended Residential Yard Management Measures Against Ticks. Journal of medical entomology, 56(5), 1420–1427. https://doi.org/10.1093/jme/tjz077 
Dr. Green Mom

Dr. Mayer is a naturopathic medical doctor and an expert in nutrition and wellness as it relates to pediatrics and families. Her passion for prevention of disease as cure fueled her desire to immerse herself into specializing in adult onset chronic conditions, as well as childhood chronic illness.

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