One recommended method of removal is using a fingernail or other flat, blunt object to break the seal of the oral sucker at the anterior end of the leech, repeating with the posterior end, then flicking the leech away. As the fingernail is pushed along the person's skin against the leech, the suction of the sucker's seal is broken, at which point the leech will detach its jaws.
Common but medically inadvisable techniques to remove a leech are to apply a flame, a lit cigarette, salt, soap, or a chemical such as alcohol, vinegar, lemon juice, insect repellent, heat rub, or certain carbonated drinks. These will cause the leech to quickly detach, however, it will also regurgitate its stomach contents into the wound. The vomit may carry disease, and thus increase the risk of infection.
An externally attached leech will detach and fall off on its own when it is satiated on blood, which may be anywhere from 20 minutes to 2 hours or more. After feeding, the leech will detach and depart. Internal attachments, such as inside the nasal passage or vaginal attachments, are more likely to require medical intervention.
After removal or detachment, the wound should be cleaned with soap and water, and bandaged. Bleeding may continue for some time, due to the leech's anti-clotting enzyme hirudin.
Bleeding time will vary with location, and will vary from a few hours to three days. This is a function of the hirudin and other compounds that reduce the surface tension of the blood.
Anti-clotting medications also affect the bleeding time. Applying pressure can reduce bleeding, although blood loss from a single bite is not dangerous. The wound normally itches as it heals, but should not be scratched, as this may complicate healing and introduce other infections.
An antihistamine can reduce itching, and applying a cold pack can reduce pain or swelling. Some people suffer severe allergic or anaphylactic reactions from leech bites and require urgent medical care.
Symptoms include red blotches or an itchy rash over the body, swelling around the lips or eyes, feeling faint or dizzy, and difficulty breathing.