spider web

Identifying Spider Bites: Symptoms and Treatment

Arachnophobia, or fear of spiders, is one of the most common phobias around the world. But despite scaring many, the majority of the 3,000 species of spiders will cause no harm to people.

  • Most common spiders have fangs that are either too short or fragile to break through human skin. Often, their venom is not poisonous enough to cause damage.

Common Spider Bite Symptoms

Common spider bite symptoms may include small, itchy, and sometimes red, irritated skin that will clear up in a few days. However there are two specific spiders in the United States – the brown recluse and the black widow – that can cause serious ailments, and even be deadly. It is important to be able to identify these spider bites in order seek proper treatment.

Brown Recluse Spider Bite Symptoms

The brown recluse spider is usually found in warm, dry climates. Nicknamed the violin spider because of the violin shaped splotch on its upper back, this spider is non-aggressive and prefers to hide away in dark, undisturbed areas like closets or basements. However, if it feels threatened, the brown recluse will attack.

The initial bite is usually painless but within eight hours you may notice:

  • Burning, pain, itching, or redness at the site
  • A red or purple ring around the bite, resembling a target
  • A fluid-filled blister, which may turn into a deep, enlarging ulcer

Brown recluse spider bite symptoms may include:

On rare occasions, symptoms can be as severe as:

Death is also a rare result of brown recluse spider bites, and is more common with children.

Black Widow Spider Bite Symptoms

Shiny and black with a noticeable reddish hour-glass mark on its belly, black widow spiders are poisonous to humans. Found mostly in warm southern and western states, these spiders like to hide in secluded areas, like barns and woodpiles.

Black widow spider bites usually feel like a pinprick, but may feel like nothing at all. The bite can be identified by:

  • Immediate swelling or redness at the site
  • Two puncture marks on the skin from the spider’s fangs

Black widow spider venom is toxic and can cause damage to the nervous system. Symptoms of black widow spider bites may include:

  • Difficulty breathing
  • Severe muscle cramps
  • Headache
  • High blood pressure
  • Increased salivation and sweating
  • Muscle weakness
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Numbness
  • Restlessness

In rare cases, bites can result in death – mostly in children, the extremely ill, and the elderly.

Common Spider Bite Treatment

If you or a loved one has been bitten by a brown recluse spider or a black widow spider, you should:

  1. Use antibacterial soap and water to clean the wound and skin around the bite.
  2. Tie a snug bandage above the bite if it is on an appendage and elevate the limb to slow or stop the venom’s spread.
  3. Apply a cold cloth to bite location.
  4. Seek immediate medical attention.

Treatment for brown recluse spider bites

Unlike common house or wood spider bites, brown recluse spider bites may require treatment from a doctor. The venom can damage tissue surrounding the bite and may cause complications, such as:

  • Scarring
  • Tissue death

First aid treatment for brown recluse spider bites should focus on keeping the affected area clean and protected. If blistering or a bulls eye-shaped wound develops, visit an urgent care facility immediately.

Your doctor will examine the brown recluse spider bite and prescribe antibiotics to prevent infection. In extreme cases, such as in cases of tissue death, surgery and hospitalization may be required.

If you think you’ve been bitten by a brown recluse spider, contact the Pittsburgh Poison Center at 1-800-222-1222.

Treatment for black widow spider bites

Black widow spider bites require immediate medical attention. If you think you have a black widow spider bite and are having trouble breathing or experiencing full-body symptoms, such as shock, call 911. You may need medical transport, depending on the severity of your symptoms.

If you’ve been bitten, visit an emergency department at your local hospital to seek treatment for your spider bite. On the way, ice the affected area to treat symptoms like swelling and pain.

In many cases, your emergency care team may recommend a combination of narcotics and antivenin for pain and symptom relief. Antivenin works to remove black widow spider venom from your body.

Often, even with narcotics, you may not find relief from your symptoms for quite some time.

If you think you’ve been bitten by a black widow spider, contact the Pittsburgh Poison Center at 1-800-222-1222.

RELATED: Stings and Insect Bites – Home Treatment

Spider Bite Treatment at Home

In many cases, you can use home remedies for spider bites. Most spider bites require medical attention only if symptoms appear to be life threatening. For non-venomous spider bites, you can:

  • Apply a cold compress or ice pack to the bite and elevate the area to relieve swelling
  • Take an antihistamine orally or use a local anesthetic directly on the bite to help with itching
  • Regularly clean the area to prevent infection
  • Apply antibiotic ointment to the infected area if blisters develop
  • Contact your health care provider if new symptoms develop or if symptoms do not go away over time.

If you or a loved one are bitten by a spider or have an insect bite you can’t quite identify, please seek immediate medical help. You can visit any UPMC Urgent Care center without making an appointment. We’re here to help you get the care you need, when you need it most.

Looking for home health remedies? Sign up for the Healthbeat newsletter.

*