Should Your Child See a Doctor?
- Bite symptoms include redness, pain, swelling
- Helpful if spider seen on the skin or in close proximity to the child
First Aid Advice for Black Widow Spider Bites:Apply an ice cube or ice pack to the bite for 20 minutes to reduce the spread of the venom (no tourniquet).
First Aid Advice for Shock:Lie down with the feet elevated.
Types of Spider Bites
Black Widow Spider Bite
- A shiny, jet-black spider with long legs (total size 1 inch).
- A red (or orange) hourglass-shaped marking on its under-side.
- Causes immediate local mild pain, swelling and occasionally 2 fang marks.
- Severe muscle cramps (especially abdominal wall cramps) are present by 1 to 6 hours, and last 24 to 48 hours.
- Rarely causes death (EXCEPTION: bitten by several spiders or small child is bitten)
- Note: Many are dry bites because the fangs are small.
- The brown widow spider is related to the black widow and is found in the southern U.S.
- Brown widow spider bites are treated the same as a black widow bite.
Brown Recluse Spider Bite
- A brown spider with long legs (total size 1/2 inch).
- A dark violin shaped marking on top of its head
- Causes local pain and delayed blister formation in 4 to 8 hours
- The center becomes bluish and depressed (crater-like) over 2 to 3 days
- Skin damage may require skin grafting in 10% of cases.
- Systemic symptoms such as fever, vomiting, muscle pain can occur (but no life-threatening symptoms).
- Since brown recluse spiders are hard to identify, bring the spider along in a jar.
Non-dangerous Spider Bites
- More than 50 spiders in the U.S. have venom and can cause local, nonserious reactions.
- The bites are painful and mildly swollen for 1 or 2 days (much like a bee sting).
- Many single, unexplained, tender bites that occur during the night are due to spiders.
When to Call Your Doctor for Spider Bite
Call 911 If…
- Your child has passed out or is too weak to stand
- Your child has difficulty breathing or is wheezing
Call Your Doctor Now (night or day) If
- Your child looks or acts very sick
- Widow spider (black, brown, red, etc.) bite suspected
- Abdominal pain, chest tightness or other muscle cramps
- Bite pain is severe
- Bite looks infected (red streaking from the bite area, yellow drainage). (Note: infection doesn't start until at least 24-48 hours after the bite. Any redness in the first 24 hours is due to venom)
Call Your Doctor Within 24 Hours (between 9 am and 4 pm) If
- You think your child needs to be seen
- Bite starts to look bad (e.g., skin damage, blister or purplish - not just swelling)
- Bite pain persists over 2 days
Call Your Doctor During Weekday Office Hours If
- You have other questions or concerns
Parent Care at Home If
- Non-serious spider bite and you don't think your child needs to be seen
Home Care Advice for Non-Dangerous Spider Bites
- Cleansing: Wash the bite thoroughly with soap and water.
- Meat Tenderizer: Rub the bite area with a cotton ball soaked in a meat tenderizer solution for 20 minutes (EXCEPTION: avoid if near the eye). Do this once. If not available, apply an ice cube in a wet washcloth for 20 minutes.
- Pain Medicine: Give acetaminophen (e.g., Tylenol) or ibuprofen as needed for pain.
- Expected Course: Some swelling and pain for 1 to 2 days. It shouldn't be any worse than a bee sting.
- Call Your Doctor If:
- Severe bite pain persists over 2 hours after pain medicine
- Abdominal pains or muscle spasms occur
- Local pain lasts over 2 days (48 hours)
- Bite begins to look infected
- Your child becomes worse
And remember, contact your doctor if your child develops any of the "When to Call Your Doctor" symptoms.
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- Clark RF, et al. Clinical presentation and treatment of black widow spider envenomation: A review of 163 cases. Ann Emerg Med. 1992;21:782.
- Herman BE and Skokan EG. Bites that poison: A tale of spiders, snakes and scorpions. Contemp Pediatr. 1999;16 (8):41-62.
- Koh WL. When to worry about spider bites: Inaccurate diagnosis can have serious, even fatal consequences. Postgrad Med. 1998;103:235-6, 243-4, 249-50.
- Mofenson HC and Caraccio TR. Spider bites aren't an itsy-bitsy problem in kids. Contemp Pediatr. 1993 Jul;10:18-35.
- Swanson DL, et.al. Bites of brown recluse spiders and suspected necrotic arachnidism. N Eng J Med. 2005;352:700.
- Wright SW, Wrenn KD, Murray L, Seger D. Clinical presentation and outcome of brown recluse spider bite. Ann Emerg Med. 1997;30:28-32.
This information is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice. It is provided for educational purposes only. You assume full responsibility for how you choose to use this information.
Author and Senior Reviewer: Barton D. Schmitt, M.D.
Last Reviewed: 8/1/2010
Last Revised: 9/30/2010
Copyright 1994-2011 Barton D. Schmitt, M.D.