Spider Bites: First Aid

Most spider bites cause only minor injury. A few spiders can be dangerous. In the United States, these include the black widow spider and the brown recluse spider.

To take care of a spider bite:

  • Clean the wound. Use mild soap and water, and apply an antibiotic ointment.
  • Apply a cool compress. Use a cloth dampened with cold water or filled with ice. This helps reduce pain and swelling. If the bite is on an arm or leg, elevate it.
  • Use over-the-counter medications. Try a pain reliever, such as acetaminophen (Tylenol, others) or ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin IB, others), or an antihistamine (Benadryl, Chlor-Trimeton, others).

When to seek medical care

Seek prompt medical attention in the following situations:

  • You are unsure whether the bite was from a poisonous spider.
  • The person who was bitten experiences severe pain, abdominal cramping, or a growing ulcer at the bite site.
  • The person who was bitten isn't breathing.

Your doctor may recommend a tetanus booster shot if you haven't had one in the last five years.

Black widow spider

You can usually identify a black widow spider by the hourglass marking on its belly. The bite feels like a pinprick. You may not even know you've been bitten. In the United States, this spider is more common in the south.

Signs and symptoms of a black widow spider bite may include:

  • At first, slight swelling and faint red marks
  • Intense pain and stiffness
  • Severe abdominal pain or cramping
  • Excessive sweating

Brown recluse spider

The brown recluse spider has a violin-shaped marking on its back, but this mark can be hard to see. In the United States, its range is central and southern states.

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Signs and symptoms of a brown recluse spider bite vary but may include:

  • At first, a mild stinging
  • Redness and intense pain, within eight hours
  • A deep blue or purple area around the bite, which may develop a red ring around it

Updated: 2015-02-07

Publication Date: 2015-02-07

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