Non Toxic Tick Prevention for those with Sensitivities
One way I support my nervous system is with a practice called forest bathing, but I worry about tick prevention.
If you aren’t familiar with forest bathing, you might be picturing a big bathtub in the middle of the woods. 😀 That’s definitely what it sounds like!
But forest bathing is simply connecting to nature. You make a point to be aware of what you see, smell, touch, hear and even taste.
It’s practiced around the world to help lower stress. And you may know this already, but stress is a mast cell trigger.
I live near a wooded area, and I go out multiple times a week to forest bathe.
But for a long time, I was really scared to go into the woods.
I had Lyme, Bartonella, and Babesia from being bitten by ticks.
I really didn’t want to risk getting Lyme or other tickborne infections again.
However, my nervous system really suffered when I wasn’t connecting with nature.
So, I started looking at ways I could be safer outdoors.
And at the top of my list of things to consider was stepping up my protection against ticks.
Keep reading for my tips and tricks for tick prevention.
But first, take a quick look at how tick-borne diseases affect Mast Cell Activation Syndrome.
It’s important you know that this blog post is for informational and educational purposes. It’s not meant to treat any health condition or to be prescriptive for anyone. If you have any medical condition, it is critical you work under the care and guidance of a licensed medical provider.
Why Tick Prevention is Important: The Link Between Tick-Borne Diseases and Mast Cell Activation Syndrome
I was afraid to go back out into wooded areas for a while because of all the tick-related diseases out there.
Here’s a little bit more on why tick prevention is important.
Ticks and Tick-Borne Diseases
Ticks carry diseases like:
- Lyme Disease
- Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever (RMSF)
- And more
Here are some ticks to beware of:
- Deer tick
- Lone star tick
- American dog tick
- Brown dog tick
- Rocky mountain wood tick
These aren’t all the tick-borne diseases or disease-carrying ticks. But it gives you an idea of what’s out there.
The CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) says that if a tick is attached to you for 36-48 hours, your risk of getting Lyme increases.
But now some studies are showing that infection transmission can take place much sooner. In some instances, some tickborne diseases are showing up within 15 minutes in animal studies.
Why were these diseases and tick prevention a particular concern of mine? Well, that has to do with the link between coinfections and Mast Cell Activation Syndrome.
Lyme and Coinfections as a Root Cause of MCAS
In the Mast Cell 360 practice, we work from a root causes approach. That means we look for those big, underlying issues that can lead to Mast Cell Activation Syndrome.
For most people we work with in the Mast Cell 360 practice, the #1 root cause of MCAS is mold and Mold Toxicity.
But that’s often just the biggest of several root causes. Another root cause is Lyme, and Lyme coinfections like Bartonella or Borrelia.
To understand this better, take just a second to read more about how mast cells actually do great things for your health.
Mast cells are an important part of your immune system. They are your body’s first line of defense.
When your body comes under attack by bacteria, viruses, and parasites, such as those carried by some ticks, the mast cells respond.
They release chemicals called mediators as part of this response. The mediators play a number of different roles, including sending out signals so the body knows what to do next to fight off these invaders.
Infections, like from tick-borne diseases, trigger the mast cells. That’s normal.
But here’s what can happen.
Chronic inflammation, infections, toxicity, and genetic issues can all lead to mast cell dysregulation.
That’s when the mast cells go haywire and quit responding normally.
They often become overly responsive. When this happens, the mast cells spew inflammatory mediators.
Mast Cell Activation Syndrome triggered by tickborne infections can cause terrible symptoms!
You can see why I was so scared.
But I really wanted to live my life fully again.
For me, that included spending time in nature.
So, I had to find a way to do it. Keep reading to learn some of my top tips for tick prevention.
Tick Prevention Tips
When I say prevention, some of you may be thinking the best prevention is staying home. I understand. I did that for a while, too.
But you can still enjoy the outdoors!
Like I mentioned earlier, getting out into nature can be so good for the nervous system.
Did you know that nervous system dysregulation can also lead to mast cell dysregulation?
The good news is that there are ways you can help prevent tick bites when you get back outside. Here are some tips and tricks I’ve found helpful for tick prevention.
Tick Prevention: Areas to Avoid
The most common tick habitat is tall grasses. They can also be found in brushy areas and in bushes like honeysuckle.
At certain times of year, ticks may also be found in leaf litter.
Avoiding these kinds of areas will go a long way in tick prevention. Stick to trails and areas with mowed grass.
If you have pets that go outside, they might go into areas like this, even if you don’t.
So, talk with your veterinarian about flea and tick control for your pets. You don’t want them getting diseases or being a carrier for ticks.
The EPA (environmental protection agency) also reminds you to keep pet bedding clean to help control any potential flea and tick infestation in your home.
Natural Pest Deterrents for Tick Prevention
One of the most popular and effective “bug” repellents out there is DEET. But DEET is neurotoxic. I don’t use it.
Further, many products that contain DEET may have other toxins in them, too. Fragrance is one to look out for.
“Fragrance” is found in a lot of skincare products, as well as air-fresheners, and candles.
Fragrance sounds innocent enough. But it can be made up an any number of natural or synthetic chemicals, including phthalates.
Phthalates have been found to disrupt the endocrine system and be detrimental to development, too.
Plus, if you have Mast Cell Activation Syndrome, you might be extra sensitive to toxins of any kind. You might be that canary in the coal mine that gets affected by toxins well before others do.
So, here are some options for tick prevention to consider that don’t involve DEET.
Repel Plant-Based Lemon Eucalyptus Insect Repellent
This lemon-eucalyptus repellent from Repel is a spray-on repellent made with essential oils. Consumer Reports rated it very highly!
I can also tell you from personal experience that this is one of the best natural deterrents for tick prevention I’ve tried. And I’ve tried a lot.
But if you haven’t used it before, you should do a small test patch on your skin before you go all in. Everyone is different. Your sensitivity level may be different from mine.
Spraying your clothes rather than your skin is another option to consider.
Permethrin treated clothing is another less toxic option than DEET.
Permethrin is a type of pesticide synthesized to act like chrysanthemum extract.
It’s been shown that people who wear Permethrin-sprayed clothing experience a 93% reduction in tick bites.
Unlike the Repel, you shouldn’t spray this directly on your skin.
Permethrin, can be sprayed on your clothes, shoes, or any fabric you’ll take in the woods with you (like a picnic blanket or forest bathing mat).
I use a permethrin-treated sheet for forest bathing. It comes sold like a sleeping bag. But I cut the seams vertically so I can open it up to be more like a full-size bed sheet.
And I get my hiking clothes professionally treated with Permethrin.
The professionally treated clothes are more potent and last longer than if you spray yourself.
One company that does this kind of tick prevention is Insect Shield.
Insect Shield says that another advantage of getting items professionally treated is that the repellent lasts up to 5x longer than if you spray it yourself.
Plus, if you have sensitivities, you’ll be better off having someone else spray.
Overall, I haven’t had any real problems that I wasn’t able to address. But here are some precautions you’ll want to take if you are sensitive like me.
Permethrin can have some toxicity if inhaled. So, with the exception of my hiking boots, I get my clothes professionally treated.
When I spray my boots, I take these precautions to help.
- Go outside to a well-ventilated area to spray.
- Wear a mask.
- Optionally, have someone who doesn’t have sensitivities spray. (They’ll still want to go outside and mask up.)
- Or the best option is to send your clothing to a place like Insect Shield for treatment.
Permethrin and Skin Contact
Permethrin treated clothing has been shown to be safe even with longer term use.
Treated clothing and sheets are even safe for pets.
It doesn’t off-gas once it’s embedded in the fabric.
But if you’re sensitive like me, you may want to keep permethrin off your skin. That’s because you might get some very low-level absorption if it’s right up against your body.
I did get itchy when I didn’t wash the treated garments first. So, here’s what I do now.
Tips for keeping permethrin off your skin:
- Wash clothing once before wearing it. (I didn’t itch after one wash.)
- Wear a thin, cotton layer under the permethrin-treated clothing
- If you are using the permethrin-treated sheet for your forest bathing practice, lay that on the ground and cover it with an organic cotton (untreated) sheet.
Washing will remove some of the insect protection. But you’ll still get a lot of use out of each item.
The Insect Shield website says the insect protection of the sheets will last through 25 washings and 70 washings for clothing.
And, you can always send clothing or sheets back to the company to be re-treated.
A couple other things to note about permethrin for tick prevention:
- Permethrin does degrade in the sunlight. Keep sprayed clothes out of direct sunlight when storing them.
- Permethrin has a strong smell when spraying. But, after it dries, I haven’t noticed a smell.
- It also protects against mosquitoes that carry viruses like Zika and West Nile.
Tick Prevention: Other Good Practices
If you are super-sensitive and worried about the Repel or permethrin, you still have some options for tick prevention that can help. You can use these alongside the Repel and permethrin, too.
- Wear light-weight shirts with long sleeves and long pants. Minimizing exposed skin can go a long way to preventing tick bites.
- Wear solid-colored clothing. You’ll be able to see ticks more easily if you are wearing solid colors than if you are wearing patterns.
- Wear long hair up and tucked under a cap or bandana. Ticks don’t fall out of trees like some people think. But they can crawl.
- Tuck long pants into your socks to help prevent ticks from getting up under your pant legs.
- Use wide rubber bands around loose pant legs to keep ticks out.
- Tuck your shirt into your pants to keep ticks out.
Am I going to win any awards for style when I’m out in the woods? No. 😀
But I do feel safer when I take even just a few of these precautions during the height of tick season.
- Get to know your area. What works for me in the Midwest may be different for you. Learn what works for you. Local outdoor enthusiasts can give you lots of great tips.
- Check online to see when the height of tick season is in your area.
- Tick check! Take a quick look at your body before you get in your car. Once you get home, you can do a mirror or buddy check, depending on your situation.
- Ticks can attach anywhere but pay special attention to check areas of your body like armpits, belly button, around the waist, behind your ears and knees, and in your hair.
Heat Things Up
- 6 minutes of high heat in a dryer has been shown to kill blacklegged tick nymphs and adults on fabrics. I like to be extra thorough. As soon as I come inside, I throw my sheets and all the clothing I’ve worn in the dryer on the highest setting for 20 minutes.
(Drying is ok for permethrin-treated clothes, too. It’s only advised to avoid dry cleaning.)
So, you’ve taken all these precautions for tick prevention. But what if a determined tick still manages to get on you?
Here are some things you should know.
What To Do If You Find an Attached Tick
Tick removal done right away can help reduce the risk of catching tick-borne diseases.
But you might have gotten some misinformation about the best ways to remove ticks.
Tick Removal Don’ts
Have you heard of covering the tick with nail polish or petroleum jelly like Vaseline?
It seems like the idea behind these remedies is to smother the tick. Then it will die and detach.
But time can make a big difference when it comes to tick removal. So, you don’t want to wait until it dies on its own.
Another trick you might have heard about is using heat to remove a tick.
I have seen people do this. They light a match, blow out the flame, and apply the hot tip to the tick.
I’ve seen it work. The tick can loosen its grip and become easier to remove. But you could burn yourself in the process.
Tick Removal Dos
Here is a better way to remove a tick.
Tweezers are easier and safer to use than your hands. You probably already have some in your home.
It’s a good idea to have an extra set for your backpack or first aid kit, too.
Grab the tick as close to the skin as you can. Pull upward with a slow and steady motion. This will help with getting the whole tick removed without getting mouthparts stuck in your skin.
Be sure to clean the bite area and your hands once the tick has been removed. Use rubbing alcohol or soap and water.
What Should I Do With a Tick Once I’ve Removed It?
You can keep the tick to take to your healthcare provider for identification.
It’s recommended that you put the tick in a secure, hard container like an old pill bottle.
Definitely talk with your healthcare provider If you develop any of these symptoms after removing a tick:
- Joint swelling and pain
- Muscle pain
But you should talk with your provider even if you don’t develop symptoms. Tickborne infections can dampen the immune response enough that symptoms don’t develop.
I know this is a lot to consider when it comes to tick prevention.
I would like to end on an upbeat note, though.
I was worried when I first started venturing back out. But I eased into it.
I started with paved paths surrounded by trees.
Then I started spending just a few minutes on the trails.
Eventually, I got to a comfort level where I felt comfortable reclining on my forest bathing mat off the path.
I’m always still cautious about where I choose to be.
But I’m so happy to be living my life again. And I’m getting all the nervous system benefits that come from de-stressing out in nature.
What are your best tips for tick prevention?
More About Lyme and MCAS
- Lyme, SIBO, Candida, EBV in Mold Toxicity – Why won’t they go away? What do you do to get rid of them?
- Lyme, Mast Cell Activation Syndrome, and Histamine Intolerance
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