Spider Bite What Does It Look Like?

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.

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.

See also:  Spider Bite When To Worry?

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.

See also:  When Should You See A Doctor For A Spider Bite?

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.

www.womenshealthmag.com

Spider Bite Pictures

Rod Brouhard is an emergency medical technician paramedic (EMT-P), journalist, educator, and advocate for emergency medical service providers and patients.

Michael Menna, DO, is a board-certified, active attending emergency medicine physician at White Plains Hospital in White Plains, New York.

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It’s easy to look at pictures of red, bumpy lesions on the internet—that other people have tagged as spider bites—and think, «that’s what I have!»

The problem is that many images are misidentified as spider bites by websites, patients, and even doctors. They might be from spiders, but they can also be from other types of bugs or infections. The pictures below show different types of lesions that are often identified as spider bites. Each one is discussed on how it could—or could not—be from a spider.

There are only two medically significant spider species in North America: the black widow and the brown recluse.

Black widow bites, for example, are very difficult to diagnose by looking at the site of the bite, unless it includes fang marks (see below). It’s easier to say definitively when a lesion is not a brown recluse bite than when it is.

Bottom line: Without catching a spider in the act, there might not be an accurate diagnosis. Nevertheless, whether it’s a spider or another kind of bug bite, treatment is generally the same.

Expanding Lesions

An expanding lesion, like the one in the picture, is common in brown recluse bites,   but there are many other possibilities to consider. Some skin infections can lead to lesions like this. The only way to tell for sure is to have it evaluated by a medical professional.

Bullseyes

One of the things that set bites apart—whether from spiders or other bugs— from infections is the «bullseye» pattern of discoloration. It shows up as concentric rings of discoloration.  

It’s common in tick bites, especially those that later turn into Lyme disease, and can also be present for spiders.  

Ticks, scorpions, and spiders are all arachnids.  

Fang Marks

Black widows have fangs, almost like miniature snakes. Soon after a black widow spider bites you—before any reaction starts—you might be able to see two small holes like those in this image.

Black widow venom can cause muscle spasms and heart disturbances, but if you have a black widow spider bite, rest assured that they are rarely fatal. The most common symptoms after a bite (besides the pain of the bite itself) are:  

  • Abdominal pain
  • Muscle cramps/soreness
  • Soreness and redness around the bite
  • Irritability/agitation

High blood pressure is also common from black widow spider bites, although it rarely causes any problems for the patient. Most of the symptoms are treated individually. An antivenin (spider poison antidote) is available for black widow spider venom, but it’s not really necessary for most patients.

Classic Recluse Spider Bite

Brown recluse bites can go unnoticed, or they can lead to severe pain 2 to 8 hours after the bite. In some cases, patients report feeling a «pinprick» at the site of the spider bite. In true cases of loxoscelism (medical terminology for the condition caused by brown recluse bites), skin tissue that develops could take several months to fully heal and the scars may remain.   Generally, brown recluse bites are much less likely to cause significant injury than black widows.

Your Spider Bite Might Not Be a Bite at All

It’s nearly impossible to say for sure if a spider bite comes from a brown recluse without the use of a lab test. However, there are some telltale signs that can be used to rule out the possibility of a brown recluse bite.  

Signs It’s Not a Recluse Bite

NOT RECLUSE is an acronym for the signs that a wound or lesion is not caused by a brown recluse bite. It stands for:

  • Numerous
  • Occurrence
  • Timing
  • Red center
  • Chronic
  • Large
  • Ulcerates too early
  • Swollen
  • Exudes moisture
See also:  When To Get A Spider Bite Checked Out?

The presence of any of these is an indicator that the wound isn’t from a brown recluse. The presence of two or more of these signs almost guarantees that it’s not. Let’s take a look at each one.

Lots of Lesions Are Not Spider Bites

Multiple bites are not typically from spiders, especially not a brown recluse or black widow. In cases with so many bites, consider bugs that travel in groups, like mosquitoes, bedbugs, or chiggers, for example.

How It Happens Makes a Difference

In order to be a brown recluse bite, the way the bite happened is very important to the story. If the bite occurred because the patient disturbed a spider by moving old boxes in the attic, that’s much more likely than getting a bite in the yard.

Recluse spiders have that name for a reason; they don’t like crowds. They hide in really out of the way, dark places.

Bad luck in the backyard, for example, could be due to poison ivy or spiders. It could also be a result of chiggers, which like to get into boots and socks to bite their prey.

When it happens matters, too. If a bite doesn’t happen from April to October, the chance that it’s from a brown recluse are slim to none. Brown recluses are notoriously inactive during the rest of the year.  

Red, Inflamed Centers Point to Infection

A red, inflamed center is not an indicator of a brown recluse bite.   Loxoscelism (brown recluse envenomation) is known for having a dark, flat center.

A swollen, hot area can easily be a staph infection. There is a possibility that it’s a bug bite, but skin infections are even more likely. Lest you think that staph infections can be the result of a spider bite, it’s probably not the case.

At least one study found that spiders do not regularly carry bacterial infections.

Long Time to Heal

If it takes a really long time for the lesion to heal, it might not be a brown recluse bite. They’ve got a reputation for lasting a while, but most brown recluse bites heal within three weeks and the biggest of them heal within three months.  

A line drawn around the lesion, as shown in the picture, is a common method for keeping track of an expanding rash or area of swelling. Be sure to note the time and date when a line is drawn to know how fast the lesion expands.

Massive Sores

Brown recluse bites are known for having necrosis (dead tissue) in the center of the lesion. However, the necrosis is not going to be bigger than 10 centimeters across (four inches).  

A lot of infected sores are identified—even diagnosed—as spider bites. In truth, unless you have a spider to identify as the culprit, the odds are against a spider bite. It’s much more likely that a non-spider bug did the biting in this case.

If the lesion grows or continues to get worse over a 24 hour period, it’s worth taking a trip to see the doctor. If not, it’s probably fine just to keep it clean and keep an eye on it.

Ulceration

A brown recluse bite will eventually break the skin (ulcerate), but if it happens before the week is out, it’s probably not a brown recluse.   Sometimes, it’s not really obvious that the lesion ulcerated, other than the fact that it develops a crust.

So, if it’s bleeding or crusty and it hasn’t been a week, it’s probably something other than a brown recluse bite.

Swelling

Swelling typically indicates something other than a brown recluse bite.   Below the neck, brown recluse bites do not result in significant swelling. Above the neck is a different story. Bites on the eyelids and other very soft tissues of the face often swell after a recluse bite.

Any bug bite can lead to swelling from allergic reaction or envenomation.

Oozing

Brown recluse bites are known for being dry in the center. If it’s oozing pus or moisture, it’s very unlikely to be a brown recluse bite.  

Forks TP. Brown recluse spider bites. J Am Board Fam Pract. 2000;13(6):415-23.

Rahmani F, Banan khojasteh SM, Ebrahimi bakhtavar H, Rahmani F, Shahsavari nia K, Faridaalaee G. Poisonous Spiders: Bites, Symptoms, and Treatment; an Educational Review. Emerg (Tehran). 2014;2(2):54-8.

Payne KS, Schilli K, Meier K, et al. Extreme pain from brown recluse spider bites: model for cytokine-driven pain. JAMA Dermatol. 2014;150(11):1205-8. doi:10.1001/jamadermatol.2014.605

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