How Many Times Do Spiders Bite?

Why Do Spiders Bite Humans?

Spiders aren’t built to bite humans

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  • B.A., Political Science, Rutgers University

Spider bites are actually rare. Spiders really don’t bite humans very often. Most people are quick to blame a spider for any unusual bump or mark on their skin, but in the vast majority of cases, the cause of your skin irritation is not a spider bite. This belief is so pervasive that doctors often misdiagnose (and mistreat) skin disorders as spider bites.

Spiders Aren’t Built to Bite Large Mammals

First of all, spiders are not built to do battle with large mammals like humans. Spiders are designed to capture and kill other invertebrates. With few exceptions (most notably, that of widow spiders), spider venom is not lethal enough to do much damage to human tissues. Chris Buddle, an Associate Professor of Insect Ecology at McGill University, notes that «of the almost 40,000 spider species, globally, there are less than a dozen or so that can cause serious health problems to the average, healthy human.» And even those with venom potent enough to threaten harm to a human are ill equipped to bite us. Spider fangs simply aren’t made for puncturing human skin. That’s not to say spiders can’t bite humans, but it’s not an easy thing for them to do. Ask any arachnologist how often they suffer bites while handling live spiders. They’ll tell you that they don’t get bitten, period.

Spiders Choose Flight Over Fight

One of the main ways that spiders detect threats is by sensing vibrations in their environment, much like they detect the presence of wayward insects in their webs. People make a lot of noise, and spiders are well aware that we are coming their way. And if a spider knows you are coming, it’s going to choose flight over fight whenever possible.

When Spiders Do Bite

Now, occasionally, spiders do bite people. When does this happen? Usually, when someone unknowingly sticks his hand into a spider’s habitat, and the spider is forced to defend itself. And here’s a disturbing little tidbit of spider bite trivia for you, courtesy of entomologist Dr. Gilbert Waldbauer in The Handy Bug Answer Book:

The majority of [black widow spider] bites are inflicted on men or boys sitting in an outdoor privy, or pit toilet. Black widows sometimes spin their web just beneath the hole in the seat, often a good place to catch flies. If the unfortunate person’s penis dangles in the web, the female spider rushes to attack; presumably in defense of her egg sacs, which are attached to the web.

So If This Mark on My Skin Isn’t a Spider Bite, What Is It?

What you thought was a spider bite could be any number of things. There are plenty of arthropods that do bite humans: fleas, ticks, mites, bedbugs, mosquitoes, biting midges, and many more. Skin disorders can also be caused by exposure to things in your environment, including chemicals and plants (like poison ivy). There are dozens of medical conditions that can cause a skin irritation that looks like a bite, from vascular disorders to diseases of the lymphatic system. Bacterial or viral infections are often misdiagnosed as arthropod bites. And you might be surprised to learn that one of the most common causes of «spider bites» is actually MRSA (methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus).

The Surprising Cause of Most ‘Spider Bites’

By Douglas Main 05 July 2013

If the thought of spiders makes your skin crawl, you might find it reassuring that the chances of being bitten by a spider are smaller than you imagine, recent research shows.

Most so-called «spider bites» are not actually spider bites, according to researchers and several recent studies. Instead, «spider bites» are more likely to be bites or stings from other arthropods such as fleas, skin reactions to chemicals or infections, said Chris Buddle, an arachnologist at McGill University in Montreal.

«I’ve been handling spiders for almost 20 years, and I’ve never been bitten,» Buddle told LiveScience. «You really have to work to get bitten by a spider, because they don’t want to bite you.»

For one thing, spiders tend to avoid people, and have no reason to bite humans because they aren’t bloodsuckers and don’t feed on humans, Buddle said. «They are far more afraid of us than we are of them,» he said. «They’re not offensive.»

Not very scary

When spider bites do happen, they tend to occur because the eight-legged beasts are surprised — for example when a person reaches into a glove, shoe or nook that they are occupying at the moment, Buddle said.

Even then, however, the majority of spiders are not toxic to humans. Spiders prey on small invertebrates such as insects, so their venom is not geared toward large animals such as humans.

Many spiders aren’t even capable of piercing human flesh. Buddle said he has observed spiders «moving their fangs back and forth against his skin,» all to no avail. [Creepy, Crawly & Incredible: Photos of Spiders]

Only about a dozen of the approximately 40,000 spider species worldwide can cause serious harm to the average healthy adult human. In North America, there are only two groups of spiders that are medically important: the widow group (which includes black widows) and the recluse group (brown recluses). These spiders do bite people, and if they live in your area, you should know what they look like, Buddle said. But still, records show bites from these spiders are very infrequent.

The bite of widow spiders like the black widow is one of the only well-recognized spider bites in North America, with obvious, unmistakable symptoms, said Rick Vetter, a retired arachnologist at the University of California at Riverside. Signs can include intense pain and muscle contractions, which occur because the bite interferes with nerves in muscles.

Nowadays, deaths from the bite are rare thanks to widow spider antivenom. Before this was developed, however, treatments for black widow bites included whiskey, cocaine and nitroglycerine, according to a review Vetter published this month in the journal Critical Care Nursing Clinics of North America.

Misidentified ‘bites’

Often, black widow and brown recluse spiders are misidentified, and reported in regions where they are extremely unlikely to actually live, Vetter said. For example, In South Carolina, 940 physicians responding to a survey reported a total of 478 brown recluse spider bites in the state — but only one brown recluse bite has ever been definitively confirmed in the state. Recluses are mainly found in the central and southern United States, according to Vetter’s study.

«I’ve had 100 recluse spiders running up my arm, and I’ve never been bitten by one,» Vetter told LiveScience.

The vast majority of «spider bites» are caused by something else, research shows. One study Vetter cited found that of 182 Southern California patients seeking treatment for spider bites, only 3.8 percent had actual spider bites, while 85.7 percent had infections.

And a national study found that nearly 30 percent of people with skin lesions who said they had a spider bite actually had methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) infections. Other things that can cause symptoms that mimic spider bites include biting fleas or bedbugs, allergies, poison oak and poison ivy, besides various viral and bacterial infections, Vetter said.

In recent years, doctors have become better at identifying true spider bites, Vetter writes.

But spiders are still widely regarded as dangerous to humans, which is generally not the case, Buddle said.

Spiders are good at killing «nuisance insects,» which may be more likely to bite humans than spiders, Buddle added. «In the vast majority of cases, spiders are our friends.»

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Do You Have A Spider Bite? These 7 Photos Can Help You Tell

And here’s when you should see a doctor.

When it comes to spider bites, there’s literally one person ever for whom it’s been a great experience (what up, Spiderman?). and he’s fictional.

See also:  When Is A Spider Bite An Emergency?

For the rest of us non-superheroes, getting bit by an eight-legged critter is something we’ll do anything to avoid. And with good reason: At best, getting bitten by a spider is an icky, slightly painful experience. But, at worst, it can be a life-threatening nightmare.

The good news: Out of the 3,000 or so types of spiders in the U.S., only a handful are known to bite, and of those, only about three are venomous and poisonous spiders and can put your life at risk, according to research published in American Family Physician. And if you’re wondering how long spider bites take to heal? While certainly itchy and annoying, most bites heal up within a week (other than brown recluse and hobo spider bites, which can unfortunately take weeks or much longer to heal, depending on whether you develop an infection).

But if you don’t happen to be a spider expert, how do you know if your spider bite is cause for serious concern—or how to make the itching and burning stop? The Instagram photos below (all reviewed by experts) will give you an idea of what different types of spider bites look like—and what you should do if you spot one on your bod.

A post shared by Arturo (@warmloaf) on Jan 6, 2018 at 2:15pm PST

Sometimes, spiders leave behind two distinct puncture holes right next to each other—but unless you actually see the spider do the dirty deed, it’s hard to know if it was caused by an arachnid or some other biting bug.

In fact, the vast majority of «spider bites» are actually bites from other insects like fleas, ticks, and mosquitoes; are a rash from an allergic reaction; or are skin abscesses from an infection, says Justin Arnold, D.O., assistant professor of emergency medicine at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, and the associate medical director of the Alabama Regional Poison Control Center at Children’s of Alabama.

The symptoms are often similar, too—pain, swelling, itching, and redness—so it’s an easy mistake to make. In fact, even spider experts and medical professionals have a hard time differentiating bug bites from spider bites just from how they look, he adds.

«Many people don’t recall an injury or specific bite and hold a common belief that a spider must have bitten them without them knowing,» he says. «In a majority of the cases that we see, a spider was never seen by patient and is not responsible for their infection.»

A post shared by @ yuckygross on Dec 19, 2016 at 8:11am PST

While poisonous bites are rare, any bite—spider or otherwise—can turn serious if it becomes infected, says Arnold. There are three main complications that can arise from bites: cellulitis, blisters, and swelling, says Arnold.

When a spider bite turns into cellulitis—a common (although painful) skin infection—a rash begins to spread around the wound, and the skin becomes painful and hot to the touch.

Another common reaction to many spider bites is to get «weeping» blisters at the site (they look puffy and fluid-filled). Small blisters on their own, with no other symptoms, don’t necessarily need special care. But if a blister opens, it becomes at risk for infection, says Arnold, so don’t try to pop them! If you think you may have an infection at the bite site, whether from cellulitis or open blisters, it’s best to have your doctor take a look.

Swelling is another very common symptom of insect or spider bites. Even though the swelling can get quite pronounced it’s not necessarily a problem, as long as it goes down within a few days. But if the swelling doesn’t go down, gets significantly worse, or is accompanied by other symptoms, it’s time to get medical attention, says Arnold.

A post shared by Helen Harding (@hchharding) on Jan 27, 2018 at 4:21pm PST

The two most common spider bites are from house spiders, specifically the jumping spider and the wolf spider. While it can be scary to be bitten by any spider, these bites normally aren’t any more painful than a bee sting and shouldn’t cause problems beyond some redness, swelling, and itching, Arnold says.

Treat these at home by washing the site with soap and water, using cold compresses, and taking an ibuprofen to reduce pain and swelling, he adds.

A post shared by Caitlin Miller Calder (@y2caitlin) on Apr 3, 2014 at 8:16am PDT

Of all of the spiders, black widows pose the greatest health threat to Americans, according to Rick Vetter, Ph.D., a spider expert in the department of entomology at the University of California, Riverside. Their bite is extremely painful and, while an antivenin (a.k.a. anti-venom) exists now, before it was discovered, about 5 percent of bitten people died.

Think you can ID a black widow bite on sight? Not so fast: The actual bite looks a lot like any other spider bite. However, they do tend to become more swollen and red than your general household spider bite, he says.

Black widow spiders are tough to identify, as well. Only female black widows have the characteristic red hourglass-shaped markings on their backs. Male and immature black widows have tan and white stripes, Vetter says.

Because these types of bites are so serious, if you strongly suspect you were bitten by a black widow or you develop muscle cramping, abdominal and chest pain, high blood pressure, a racing heart, and/or vomiting within two hours of a bite, go to the ER immediately, Arnold says.

A post shared by Ashley Parsons (@ashley_parsons) on Jul 13, 2015 at 10:00am PDT

The brown recluse (also known as the fiddleback spider or violin spider) is one of the most venomous spiders in America, but they are limited to very specific geographic regions—if you don’t live in one of these places, it’s highly unlikely you need to worry about this type of bite, Vetter says. (Check out this map to see if you’re in the danger zone.)

And despite what you may have heard, even where brown recluses are present, they rarely bite, he adds. To identify a brown recluse, look for six eyes arranged in pairs. (Although getting close enough to see the eye pattern on a spider sounds, frankly, terrifying.)

Brown recluse bites do happen though, and when they do, they are often described by «sharp burning pain,» Arnold explains. Within several hours, the bite area becomes discolored and forms an ulcer that can takes several weeks to heal. In addition to the wound, individuals can also develop fevers, muscle aches, and in rare cases, severe anemia as a result of the venom.

Start by treating any bite at home with cold compresses and an antibiotic cream, but if you start to show severe symptoms, including a lot of swelling, increased pain, fever, spreading rash or other sign of infection, get medical attention immediately, he adds. There isn’t an antivenin, but they can treat the symptoms and manage the infection.

A post shared by Evan (@eplevinski) on Sep 13, 2013 at 8:52am PDT

The hobo spider is actually a pretty common venomous house spider in the U.S., but despite some scary media reports, they’re not aggressive and will only bite if provoked, according to the U.S. Forest Service. In addition, about half of hobo spider bites are «dry,» meaning they contain no venom, the service adds.

If you do receive a venomous bite, within a few hours it will become red and hard, similar to a mosquito bite, and within a day or two will develop blisters. After the blisters open, a scab typically forms along with a rash that often looks like a target or bull’s eye.

Because these wounds can become necrotic (as in, infected to the point they start killing surrounding tissue) and can last for years in some cases, you should see a doctor immediately, Arnold says. There isn’t an antivenin but they can treat the symptoms and manage any infection with antibiotics.

Hobo spiders can be hard to identify, according to the Forest Service. They are large and often have chevron-type markings on their backs, but these won’t be visible on darker-skinned adult spiders, which is why it’s important to get any bite checked out if it starts to show signs of infection or you see a target forming on your skin, Arnold says.

A post shared by Chrissy (@porcelainbones84) on Mar 24, 2013 at 11:47am PDT

Tarantulas may look big and scary, but most of the North American varieties are pretty chill. And even while the bite itself can be painful, the venom is fairly benign and likely won’t cause long-term issues, Arnold says. Like most spider bites, tarantula bites can cause some swelling, itching, and irritation.

However, he adds, tarantulas also have the ability to flick hairs off of their body and into your skin, which can be very irritating and painful. And some people are allergic to tarantula venom, which can make the bite even more inflamed, according to the National Institutes of Medicine.

Most of the time, it’s fine to try treating these at home by washing the site, applying ice, and taking ibuprofen, he says. But if you find yourself having a more extreme reaction, including symptoms like rapid heart rate or difficulty breathing, get to the emergency room.

Spider Bites: How Dangerous Are They?

Are All Spiders Harmful to Humans?

When you think of spiders, what words come to mind? Creepy? Venomous? Deadly? Spiders are hunters, and they often use their fangs to take down their prey. But no spider in the world is large enough to hunt humans for food. In practically every case, a spider would prefer avoiding you over biting you.

See also:  What Happens When You Get Bit By A Spider?

They may look scary, but spiders actually help people. They kill a lot of tiny pests that infest homes. Fleas and mosquitos are more harmful to humans, and they’re some spiders’ favorite foods. So when you think of spiders, perhaps the words that should come to mind are «mostly harmless,» and «surprisingly helpful.»

There are roughly 40,000 different spider species around the world. Only about a dozen can harm humans, though. Even the spiders that are potentially harmful are unlikely to bite unless they think their lives are in danger. But if you do get bitten by a venomous spider, you will want to prepare yourself.

What Do Spider Bites Look Like?

How can you identify spider bites? For the most part, you can’t. Common spider bites look like any other insect bite. You may notice a small, itchy spot on your skin. It could be red. It might irritate your skin, but it will clear up in a matter of days. Sometimes these bites hurt, but no more than bee stings. If they do hurt, the pain usually clears up in an hour or so.

In North America, though, there are two other spiders whose venomous bites can be much more serious—even deadly in some rare cases. These are the black widow spider and the brown recluse spider. You’ll learn more about these two spiders later, and what to do if one bites you.

How Deadly Are Black Widow Spiders?

Do the words «black widow» send chills down your spine? The black widow spider lives up to its reputation as one of the most dangerous spiders to humans. It is also the most venomous spider in North America. A bite can be painful and debilitating, and often causes pain in your chest or abdomen. Other possible symptoms of black widow envenomation include:

  • Headache
  • Anxiety
  • Painful, cramping muscles
  • Numbness
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Light sensitivity
  • Heavy sweating and salivating

If you have many of these symptoms, you are suffering from what scientists call latrodectism, the illness caused by black widows and related spiders.

What Do Black Widows Look Like?

Mature black widow females have shiny, black bodies. Their telltale features are bright red hourglass marks on their abdomens (not on their backs as some believe). You can often spot this mark at night, as the female typically hangs upside down from her web after dark. Black widows look very different if they are male or immature, with white and brown bodies. But these varieties pose no threat to humans.

How Aggressive Are Black Widows?

Black widows prefer not to bite if they don’t have to. Scientists poked and prodded these spiders to see what their defensive reactions would be. They found that black widows try to avoid confrontation when they are merely poked once. If they are poked several times these creepy crawlies may bite, but they can choose how much venom they use and prefer to spare it when they can. More than half the time a black widow bite is «dry,» meaning no venom is used. The most likely way to experience a serious dose of venom is by squeezing the spider. This provoked the most violent reactions in the study.

So how deadly are black widows? Not as deadly as we tend to believe. According to the National Poison Data Center, about 1,800 Americans were bitten by them in 2013. More than 1,000 of these never sought medical treatment. Of the 800 who did, only 14 cases were considered major, and nobody died from their bite.

Do You Have a Black Widow Bite?

When you’re first bitten by a black widow, it may or may not be painful. But if venom was injected into your skin you will know within an hour. By then the pain will increase and often spreads to your chest or abdomen. Some people experience stiffness in the belly along with stomach cramps. Profuse sweating, drooling, and dizziness can occur as well.

The first thing to do if you suspect a bite is to wash the bite area with warm, soapy water. This helps prevent infection. Remember that quick medical attention can prevent many of the symptoms these bites can bring on, and quick care is especially important for the most vulnerable people such as young children and the elderly.

How Dangerous Is the Brown Recluse?

The only other spider in North America that poses a medical danger to humans is the brown recluse. If you live in the American Midwest, chances are you live side-by-side with many of these tiny spiders. Even so, your chances of being bitten are slim. That’s because they rarely bite humans.

«I’ve had 100 recluse spiders running up my arm, and I’ve never been bitten by one,» recluse expert Rick Vetter said in one interview. He spent 20 years studying this spider, and says fears of brown recluse spiders are overblown.

Although the risk of being bitten is low, these are potentially dangerous spiders. However, no deaths have been reported in the United States. Even if you aren’t killed by the spider, their bites can be extremely painful and scarring.

Is it a Brown Recluse?

Identifying brown recluse spiders is difficult for the average person. They are sometimes called «violin spiders» due to a brown violin-shaped marking on their cephalothorax (the body segment where their legs attach). But other spiders have unusual markings too, and this can be hard to distinguish.

A better bet may be to look at the eyes of the spider. The brown recluse only has six eyes, whereas other spiders have eight. Recluses also have abdomens that are all one color (though their hearts can be seen through the skin). The length of the body is a little under half an inch.

Identifying Brown Recluse Spider Bites

Far more brown recluse bites are reported than proven, and plenty of confusion remains about what these spider bites actually look and feel like. Genuine brown recluse bites leave the area around the bite deep blue or purple. Sometimes a bull’s eye pattern develops around the bite with both a white inner ring and a large, red outer ring. A blister or ulcer may develop, which can turn black.

Besides the unusual bite mark, you may develop body aches or headaches. Some people notice a rash, fever, nausea or vomiting. When the bite heals, it often leaves a small scar.

Flesh-Eating Bites?

While many believe a brown recluse bite is likely to eat their flesh away, that’s probably not going to be the case. Although the venom these spiders produce can be necrotic for the skin at the bite site (flesh-eating), that only seems to occur about 10% of the time. In 90% of cases, skin reactions are more mild. Also, there can be many other causes of necrotic wounds. Unless you live in a region where brown recluse spiders are known to exist, the cause of your necrotic wound is almost certainly something else.

Hairy, Scary Tarantulas

Tarantulas are big, hairy spiders that cause more frights than problems for people. Their bites can be painful, but they won’t pose any medical emergencies.

In the United States, you’re most likely to find tarantulas in the desert Southwest. These spiders live a surprisingly long time. Some females live as long as 30 years in the wild (females live significantly longer lives than males).

When they aren’t biting their opponents, some tarantulas have another trick up their hairy sleeves. They can fling tiny barbed hairs at their target that are harmful enough to irritate humans and kill some small mammals. But with venom milder than the average bee, these formidable hunters are unlikely to send you to the hospital.

Are You Sure It’s Venomous? False Black Widows

If you live along the coast, you may spot a spider that looks strikingly similar to a black widow. The false black widow is about the same size as a true black widow, but it doesn’t have the red hourglass pattern on its belly. It’s also more oval-shaped than the real deal, and many have faint, light colorings on their black bodies that can be difficult to see.

Their bites can be painful and produce symptoms similar to black widows, though much milder in nature. A bitten victim may see the bite begin to blister. It may be moderately or even severely painful for the first hour, and some people experience a sickness-like malaise, nausea, exhaustion, or headache for a few days. Although unpleasant, these spiders are not aggressive and bites are rare.

Hobo Spiders: Stuck With a Bum Rap

Hobo spiders were once considered highly dangerous—even as dangerous as a brown recluse. But recent research has begun to cast doubt on this. People used to think bites from hobo spiders could decay the surrounding tissue, but this seems to be highly unlikely.

The hobo spider is a transplant from Europe that probably migrated to the Seattle area in the 1920s. In Europe, the spider’s bite has long been considered harmless to humans. The venom from European and North American hobo spiders has been compared, and no significant differences between the two creatures could be found.

See also:  Spider Mite On Eggplants, Tomatoes And Peppers - How To Fight? Methods Of Disposal

If you do encounter a hobo spider in the U.S., most likely you’re in the Pacific Northwest. These spiders are very fast; they can travel up to three feet per second. They weave funnel-shaped webs, and this along with their appearance mean that hobo spiders are commonly confused with the harmless North American funnel web spider.

The Most Aggressive: Yellow Sac Spider

While black widows and brown recluses seem to get all the bad press, you’re far more likely to be bitten by a much tinier but more aggressive spider in your home. The yellow sac spider is the most likely offender when no culprit can be found. In fact, this spider is thought to be responsible for the majority of North American spider bites.

These spiders are quite small—typically ¼- to 3/8-inch long—and they lack any conspicuous markings. They also like to take up residence in our homes. Yellow sac spiders move fast. They can scurry as fast as three feet per second. They have to be fast because these arachnids hunt down their prey for food.

The most unpleasant characteristic of yellow sac spiders, from our perspective, is that they have no problem whatsoever with biting humans. They’ve been observed biting humans without any provocation. Their bites start out painful, prompting a burning feeling that can last up to an hour. For the next hour up to another 10 hours, they leave a blister and rash. Fortunately, the jaws are too small to bite through the skin in some cases, and when they do bite, the yellow sac spider may not leave much venom. Regardless, the bite is rarely considered serious enough to require medical attention.

Treating a Spider Bite at Home

The first thing you should do if bitten is to try to identify the spider. Capture the spider if possible. This will help doctors determine your treatment if you need to be admitted to the hospital.

Anytime you are bitten by a spider, you should follow these steps:

  • Wash the bite area well with soap and water to prevent infection.
  • Apply a cold compress to the bite area to prevent swelling.
  • Take an over-the-counter pain reliever like acetaminophen (Tylenol) or ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin IB).

When to Visit Your Doctor

Most people will never have to visit a doctor for a spider bite. Emergency room visits for spider bites are rare, even for those caused by the most venomous species. But there are times when a doctor’s care is necessary. See the doctor if you experience:

  • Cramping in your chest or stomach
  • Vomiting
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Serious, intense pain in your stomach
  • Open sore
  • Bullseye mark around the bite
  • A bite that worsens after 24 hours.

Try to bring the spider with you to aid the doctors in selecting the proper treatment.

Black Widow Antivenom

If you think you’ve been bitten by a spider, you probably weren’t. Other tiny insects like fleas and mosquitos are far more likely to have caused a bite. And if you think you’ve been bitten by a black widow, chances are you will not require medical treatment—more than half of all black widow victims never visit the hospital. You may opt for prescription drugs to ease pain and relax your muscles.

That’s especially remarkable because a black widow’s venom is one of the most powerful poisons by volume in the animal kingdom. The venom contains no fewer than five potent toxins.

However, if the victim is very young or very old, or is weakened by another medical condition, a doctor’s treatment may be necessary. Since 1954, antivenom has been available for black widow bites. Before the invention of this antivenom (also called antivenin), about 5% of all bites resulted in death.

But many doctors are reluctant to use it for two reasons. First, deaths from black widow spiders are extremely rare. Second, the antivenom itself can kill you if you are allergic, though this is extremely rare as well. Despite these drawbacks, when it is administered, the antivenom works almost immediately, relieving pain and reducing symptoms. It is also inexpensive; a dose of black widow spider antivenin costs about $30 wholesale.

Brown Recluse Bite Treatment

Treating a violin spider or brown recluse spider bite is all about managing the wound itself. Unlike black widows which use neurotoxins, recluse spider venom is a cytotoxin, meaning it harms the bite area itself. Although rare, these bites can lead to serious tissue damage that can take more than a month to heal from.

To manage a wound from a brown recluse, talk to your doctor. Open sores may require daily cleaning and antibiotic cream treatment. Bumpy, red skin may benefit from antihistamines. Watch out for further symptoms, such as chills or fever, and report these to the doctor.

Spider Bite Allergies

Most spider bites cause mild reactions. But some people are allergic to spiders. This means that spider bites occasionally cause severe allergic reactions, including the most dangerous reaction—anaphylactic shock. Although spiders seldom cause this reaction, it has been reported in rare cases, and anaphylactic shock can come on very quickly and can be fatal.

Possible symptoms of anaphylactic shock:

  • Difficulty talking, swallowing, or breathing
  • Mouth, throat, or tongue swelling
  • Itching on the face, throat, or roof of mouth
  • Stomach cramps
  • Developing a rash or redness or feeling hot
  • Weakness or feelings of sickness
  • Collapsing or going unconscious

If you develop these symptoms, seek emergency medical treatment immediately.

How Can You Prevent Spider Bites?

Many people spend their whole lives sharing their living spaces with venomous spiders, and yet they are never bitten. Spiders usually only bite as a last resort. Even so, these bites can be serious, and if you are motivated to reduce your risk even further, there are ways to do so:

  • Keep your bed away from the wall. This leaves spiders with fewer ways to climb up the bed while you sleep. Keep the area under your bed clear so spiders have fewer ways to climb.
  • Be careful when you pull things from storage. Undisturbed areas are inviting hunting grounds for spiders.
  • When you put things in storage, close them in zipped plastic bags, taped cardboard boxes and other secured containers. This can help keep spiders out.
  • Many spiders are attracted to undisturbed wood piles and junk, so keep your yard clear.
  • Spiders often bite when someone puts on a piece of clothing that has been left undisturbed for weeks or months. If you’re putting on a pair of shoes or a jacket that’s been left in storage, shake the clothes out first.
  • Pesticides are largely useless against spider infestations, and may do more harm than good. A better way to control spider populations is through sticky traps.

Reactions Commonly Mistaken for Spider Bites

Our fear of spiders is often greater than our actual risk of spider bites. When the thought of a creepy crawly biting your skin looms so large in your mind, it can often be the first cause you reach for when you notice a skin reaction. In spite of this, hospitalizations from spider bites are rare. Here are some more likely causes for the skin reactions often blamed on spider bites:

  • Infection. Infections from bacteria, viruses, and even fungi can cause severe skin reactions. This class of infections include Staph infections, shingles, and herpes.
  • Drug reactions. Drugs can cause contact dermatitis, a painful skin reaction.
  • Other bugs and arthropods. Ticks, fleas, and mites can cause painful skin reactions, including Lyme disease and Rocky Mountain spotted fever. Lyme disease can cause a bullseye pattern around a bite similar to what is seen following some spider bites.
  • Diseases and disorders. A wide variety of medical disorders may resemble spider bites, including lymphoma, diabetic ulcers, and vasculitis.
  • Topical reactions. Touching certain harmful substances can cause nasty skin problems, including reactions to chemical burns and contact with poison oak and poison ivy.



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  6. Francesco Tomasinelli / Science Source
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  8. Les Stocker / Getty Images
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  15. Dr P. Marazzi / Science Source
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  17. iStock
  • Animal Behavior: «Poke but don’t pinch: Risk assessment and venom metering in the western black widow spider, Latrodectus hesperus.»
  • American Academy of Allergy Asthma & Immunology: «Spider anaphylaxis.»
  • Australian Government Department of Health: «Spider bites.»
  • Bohart Museum of Entomology: «Yellow sac spider.»
  • Clinical Toxicology: «Examination of adverse events following black widow antivenom use in California.»
  • DermNet New Zealand: «Spider bites.»
  • Johns Hopkins: «Brown recluse and black widow spider bites in children.»
  • LiveScience: «Black widow’s bad rap: 4 misconceptions about the spider,» «The surprising cause of most ‘spider bites,» «Venomous hobo spider bites may be not so toxic after all.»
  • Michigan State University: «Yellow sac spiders.»
  • National Capital Poison Center: «Black widow spiders.»
  • National Geographic: «Tarantulas.»
  • National Wildlife Federation: «Tarantulas.»
  • Penn State: «False black widow spider.»
  • The Permanente Journal: «The treatment of black widow spider envenomation with antivenin Latrodectus mactans: A case series.»
  • University of California, Riverside: «Causes of necrotic wounds other than brown recluse spider bites,» «Myth of the brown recluse: Fact, fear, and loathing,» «Things you can do to reduce the chances of being bitten by a brown recluse spider.»
  • University of California Statewide Integrated Pest Management Program: «Hobo spider.»
  • University of Pittsburgh Medical Center: «Identifying spider bites: Symptoms and treatment.»

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