When To Seek Treatment For A Spider Bite?

Spider Bites: What You Should Know

In this Article

In this Article

In this Article

  • Symptoms of Spider Bites
  • Diagnosis
  • Treatment
  • Prevention

Unless you see a spider bite you, don’t assume that mysterious bump on your skin came from an eight-legged creature. Spider bites are fairly rare.

These eight-legged creatures do bite people on occasion. But most of the time, these bites don’t cause a problem. That’s because most of the spiders in the U.S. have fangs that are too short to break your skin, and their venom isn’t strong enough to endanger a creature as large as a human.

Only two spiders that are native to the U.S. can do real harm when they bite a person: Black widows and brown recluses. Black widows tend to live in woodpiles, along fences or in outhouses in the South and West. Brown recluses tend to live in garages, attics or piles of rocks or firewood in the Midwest or South.

Both of these spiders tend to keep to themselves. They don’t bite unless they’re cornered. People sometimes invade their spaces without knowing it. That’s when they get bitten.

Symptoms of Spider Bites

Most look like normal bug bites, with red raised bumps that might itch. Bites from black widows or brown recluses may or may not look different. (In fact, bites from brown recluses may look and feel like nothing at all at first.) But if you’re bitten by either of these spiders, you’ll have symptoms that let you know right away that something’s wrong. These might include:

  • Sharp pain or swelling at the site of the bite
  • Pain that spreads to the back, belly or chest
  • Sweating
  • Severe stomachcramps or painВ (most common with black widow bites)
  • Fever
  • Chills
  • Feeling achy all over
  • Joint pain
  • Weakness
  • Nausea
  • Headache
  • A deep ulcer that forms at the site of the bite, with the skin at the center turning purpleВ (can occur from brown recluse bites)

Diagnosis

Your doctor will ask about your symptoms and how you were bitten. He’ll want to know if you saw a spider bite you, and if you did, what the spider looked like. That’s really the only way he can know for sure that it was a spider that bit you.

If you have more than one bite on different parts of your body, or if several people in your house were also bitten, a spider is probably not to blame. In this case, your doctor will examine you to rule out other causes, like infection or vasculitis (a condition that causes blood vessels to swell).

Continued

Treatment

Many people who are bitten by spiders don’t need to visit the doctor, even if they’ve been bitten by a black widow or brown recluse. If you don’t have more severe symptoms like the ones listed above, you may be able to care for your spider bite at home. Try these tips so ease your pain or discomfort:

  • Clean the wound with soap and water.
  • Dab it with antibiotic cream.
  • Elevate (raise) the area that was bitten to reduce swelling.
  • Put an ice pack on the bite.
  • Take over-the-counter pain medicine, if needed.
  • Watch for more severe symptoms.

See a doctor right away if you were bitten by a black widow and y have extreme pain or other serious symptoms. He may need to give you an antivenom shot.

If the site of bite gets infected, you may need antibiotics. You might also need to get a tetanus booster. That’s because tetanus spores sometimes collect inside spider bites.

Prevention

You can try to avoid spider bites by doing your best to not cross paths with spiders.

See also:  What Human Food Do Spiders Eat?

For example, if you spend time working outside in places where spiders may live:

  • Wear long-sleeved shirts, hats and gloves.
  • Tuck your pants into your socks.
  • Shake out garden gloves and other clothing before putting them on.
  • Store gardening clothes in a tightly sealed plastic bag.
  • Move piles of firewood and stones away from your home, and use caution around them.

To prevent spider bites while indoors, try to avoid storing items in cool, dark spaces, like under the bed. And make sure that all windows and doors have screens. It’ll help to keep the bugs out.

Sources

Mayo Clinic: “Spider bites — Overview,” Spider bites — Symptoms and Causes,” “Spider bites — Treatment,” “Spider bites — Diagnosis,” “Spider bites — Prevention.”

CDC: “Types of Venomous Spiders,” “Venomous Spider Recommendations.”

Nemours Foundation: “Bug Bites and Stings.”

U.S. Department of Labor: “Brown Recluse Spider.”

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When to See a Doctor for a Spider Bite

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Most spider bites are harmless. In fact, people usually don’t even notice when they’ve been bitten. Spider bite symptoms can be so subtle and non-specific—a red, inflamed bump that may be itchy—that it’s often difficult to determine whether the person was bitten by a spider or not. However, the bites of some spiders, including the black widow and brown recluse, can be deadly.

Types of Spider Bites

For health purposes, spider bites can be classified into two primary categories: poisonous spider bites and non-poisonous spider bites.

The vast majority of spiders in the United States are not poisonous. The bites of these spiders are harmless, although they can trigger an allergic reaction or become infected.

The two poisonous spiders that live in the United States are the black widow spider and brown recluse spider. Black widow spider bites tend to cause pain and cramping that usually start near the bite and spread throughout the body. Other black widow spider bite symptoms include nausea, vomiting, severe abdominal cramping, chills, fever and headache.

A brown recluse bite may seem asymptomatic at first. However, the affected area usually becomes sore within 8 hours, and in some cases, the center of the bite swells, darkens, blisters and turns into an open sore over a week or so. Other symptoms of a brown recluse spider bite include nausea, fever, chills and rash.

Spider Bite Treatment at Home

Most spider bites will heal without treatment. To prevention infection and increase comfort, you can:

  • Wash the affected area with soap and water.
  • Apply an ice pack or cool compress to decrease swelling and ease pain.
  • Consider over-the-counter (OTC) medication. If pain is interfering with activity or sleep, you can take acetaminophen (Tylenol) or ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin) as directed on the packaging. An OTC antihistamine, such as diphenhydramine (Benadryl), can decrease itching.
See also:  Do You Feel When A Spider Bites?

When to See a Doctor for a Spider Bite

Go immediately to the nearest emergency room if you suspect the bite is due to a black widow or brown recluse spider. (Black widow spiders are found throughout the United States and feature an orange-red hourglass on their underbellies. Brown recluse spiders typically hide in dark, quiet places like wood piles and attics.) The bites of black widow and brown recluse spiders can be so serious that it’s important to get immediate medical attention, even if the affected person seems fine.

An allergic reaction to a spider bite is another reason to seek medical care. Minor swelling at the site of a bite isn’t cause for the concern, but if the swelling seems to be spreading, it’s time to call a doctor. Call 911 if the affected person is having trouble breathing.

Occasionally, an infection will develop at the site of a spider bite. If the bite looks worse rather than better as time goes on, or you notice pus and increased swelling, call your healthcare provider.

Who to See for a Spider Bite

Your primary care provider can handle most allergic reactions and infected spider bites. Emergency department personnel are best equipped to handle poisonous spider bites.

Most spider bites won’t cause any serious health problems. However, it’s important to pay attention to symptoms and seek medical care as needed. When in doubt, consult your doctor.

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How to Know When a Spider Bites and What to Do About It

Medically Reviewed by Ross Radusky, MD

You spot an angry-looking red welt on your leg, and it seems too big to be a mosquito bite. Must be a spider bite, right?

Not so fast. “People wake up in the morning and find a red mark, and immediately call it a spider bite,” says Rick Vetter , a retired staff research associate and entomologist at the University of California, Riverside. But, he says, most of the skin issues people pin on spiders are actually other types of bug bites or skin issues.

Other researchers back Vetter up on this. “Spider bites are really rare,” says Jonathan Day, PhD , a professor of medical entomology at the University of Florida. He explains that most “spider bites” are more likely mosquito bites that were scratched and became infected. “Spider bite is a catchall grouping whenever there’s a severe skin infection; they’re all lumped in as spider bites,” he says.

So the first thing every spider expert in America would like people to know about spider bites is that they’re uncommon and often misdiagnosed. That said, some spiders do bite people, and the result can be ugly.

Identifying a Spider Bite: What Does One Look Like?

A lot of things. “There’s no one true spider bite,” Vetter says.

Spider Bites Can Look Very Different

Different types of spider bites may provoke different reactions in different people, he says. Even if you’re talking about just one type of spider — say, the brown recluse — its bite could cause a range of reactions: “everything from a little pimplelike bump to a rotting-flesh lesion,” he says.

At the same time, Vetter allows that different types of spider bites do produce distinct reactions. “I’ve had patients contact me saying, ‘This mark on my leg was either from a widow or a recluse,’ but that’s like saying you either got stabbed or trampled to death,” he says. His point: Black widow and brown recluse bites are so different that they could never be mistaken for one another.

See also:  How Do I Know What Kind Of Spider Bit Me?

But when it comes to common household spiders, hobo spiders, and other domestic varieties, a spider’s bite has some predictable characteristics.

How to Identify Which Spider Bit You

Broadly speaking, a spider’s bite tends to resemble a bee sting: a sharp prick of pain is followed by a red, inflamed skin lump that may hurt or itch but that goes away after a few days. (1) But when it comes to venomous spider bites, there are characteristic signs and symptoms.

Brown recluse bites sting, and they can resemble anything from small blisters to large, rotting-flesh sores, Vetter says. “Its bite causes the collapse of the capillary bed”— also known as skin necrosis (2) — «so people who are obese and have poor support of the capillary cells may have a more massive reaction,” he explains. Along with a wide variety of skin symptoms, brown recluse bites can cause chills, fever, nausea, and other flu-like symptoms common to infections. (3) The brown recluse’s bite is poisonous and can result in coma, kidney failure, or even death.

Because of the severe reaction a brown recluse bite can trigger, these spiders are likely blamed for more harm than they actually cause. The reality is that the brown recluse spider is limited in its geographic range: It’s found in the central and southern United States. (4) The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) notes that while venomous spiders are dangerous, they aren’t usually aggressive. (2)

Black widow bites can in some cases cause skin lesions, ranging from small red marks to angry, red, streaky skin patches that are inflamed or contain pus. “But most of the reaction will be on the inside,” Vetter says.

Black widow bites contain potentially deadly amounts of venom and tend to be painful right away. Although that pain starts around the bite site, within an hour, it often spreads to the chest or abdomen, depending on whether the bite occurred on the victim’s upper or lower body. Other symptoms can include everything from headaches, muscle weakness, and difficulty breathing, to seizures, numbness, and painful muscle cramps. (5)

Hobo spiders, wolf spiders, house spiders, and the bites of other domestic types do not contain venoms that are of medical importance to humans, Vetter says. They can bite, he adds. But the result is likely to be similar to a bee sting — meaning a sharp pain, followed by a swollen, red, painful lump at the bite site.

Spider Bites Usually Heal on Their Own. Here’s When to Seek Medical Attention

If you think you were bitten by a black widow or brown recluse spider — either because you actually felt and saw the spider, or you’re experiencing the types of skin or systemic symptoms consistent with their bites — head to the emergency room. (6) Vetter says that recluse bites do usually heal on their own and don’t cause scarring wounds. But it’s better to play it safe.

If your spider bite isn’t causing any internal symptoms, or you’re sure it wasn’t a black widow or brown recluse that bit you, follow these steps:

  1. Clean the bite with soap and water.
  2. Swab the bite with alcohol to prevent an infection, Dr. Day recommends.
  3. Apply ice or a cold compress to keep the swelling down.

If pain or itching develops at the bite site, it’s fine to take OTC pain meds or antihistamines for relief. But if pain spreads beyond the site of the bite, or if the swelling, inflammation, or redness are getting worse even a day or two after the bite occurred, get medical attention. You may have a secondary infection — something caused by bacteria getting into the bite — or you may have been bitten by a widow or recluse, Day says.

Why Do Spiders Bite People?

Unlike many other biting bugs, spiders are neither bloodsuckers nor flesh eaters. Vetter says they bite people for one reason only: self-defense.

“Biting is a last-ditch defensive response if a spider is being squashed,” he says. This can happen when someone rolls over in bed on top of a spider — or sits down on one, he says. “I’ve transferred spiders hundreds of times, and they’ll be running all over my arm and have no interest in biting,” he adds.

So while spider bites do occur, they’re far less common than most people assume.

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