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Treating Spider Bites

It is important to identify the type of spider bite to ensure the most effective treatment plan.

Some spider bites require antibiotics for treatment.[©Shutterstock, 2010]
©Shutterstock, 2010
Some spider bites require antibiotics for treatment.

Treating Spider Bites

Treating spider bites can be effective, if you follow a few simple steps to avoid complications. Though they are often painful and sometimes require emergency medical treatment, spider bites generally are not fatal to humans. However, the Centers for Disease Control lists three varieties of venomous spiders in the United States whose bites can cause serious physical damage: the black widow, brown recluse and hobo spiders. These spiders typically reside outdoors under woodpiles, leaves, rocks and other undisturbed debris. They can also be found indoors in warm, dry areas, such as attics, closets and garages. If a person is bitten, the spider should first be identified in order to determine whether to seek emergency medical care.

Spider Identification

As part of treatment, the patient should examine the spider in order to determine whether it is poisonous or not. A black widow spider has a distinct marking in the shape of an hourglass on its belly. The yellow, orange or red symbol is clearly visible on the shiny black body of the spider. Black widow spiders are small, measuring between one-half and 1-inch long. Brown recluse spiders look quite different. They have a medium brown coloring with a marking that looks like a violin on the top of the body. Brown recluse spiders also have six eyes instead of the typical eight eyes of other spiders. Hobo spiders have large brown bodies with distinct yellow markings on the abdomen. Unlike similar-looking spiders, hobo spiders do not have dark colored bands on their legs.

If the patient is unsure of the type of spider that produced the bite, medical evaluations should be sought in order to determine whether the spider was venomous. This is also true in the case that the patient has traveled outside of the United States and has come in contact with a spider.

Identifying Spider Bites

Black widow bites can usually be identified by the two puncture wounds on the skin. The venom is a neurotoxin that produces pain in the bite area and can spread throughout the body. The brown recluse bite may sting and produce localized pain before developing a white blister at the site of the bite. The bite will also develop a characteristic bruising pattern that resembles a bulls-eye. The bite of a hobo spider may go unnoticed until a slow-healing wound develops. The bites of both the brown recluse and the hobo spider can cause an open, spreading sore that develops that slowly kills surrounding tissue.

Spider Bite Symptoms

According to the Mayo Clinic, the victim may not know at first that the bite has occurred. Most bites only feel like a small pinprick. Symptoms may take anywhere from a few minutes to a few hours to appear. The first signs of a spider bite usually include redness and swelling at the bite site. Other common symptoms include:

  • Fever
  • Chills
  • Nausea and/or vomiting
  • Severe pain in the abdominal area

Symptoms vary from patient to patient and may cause a very mild reaction that the patient does not notice. In very rare cases, death occurs as a result of a spider bite. Spider bites are more likely to prove fatal to the elderly and patients with weakened immune systems. According to the University of Maryland Medical Center, children bitten by spiders should receive immediate medical attention to avoid more critical complications.

Treatment of Venomous Spider Bites

Treatment for all bites starts with washing the area with soap and warm water and applying an antibiotic ointment. Ice and elevation can be used to reduce swelling. These steps can be taken prior to receiving medical attention for the bite.

To alleviate the pain associated with black widow bites, the victim can take acetaminophen and apply an ice pack or cold compress to the bite area. Once the victim arrives at a hospital, the physician can decide on the type of medication needed to treat the infection. A combination of medications is traditionally used on victims of black widow spider bites and may include muscle relaxants, pain relievers and antivenin.

A physician will determine the severity of a brown recluse bite and damage to surrounding tissue then proceed with treatment. In less serious cases, treatment may only involve the administration of corticosteroids to alleviate the symptoms. In severe cases of ulcerated tissue, surgery may be needed.

Even though a hobo spider bite may not cause immediate symptoms, precautions should still be taken. Once emergency staff assesses the severity of the bite, medication is administered to the patient. Diamino-diphenyl sulfone (Dapsone), an antibiotic, is sometimes used for hobo spider bites.

Treatment of Non-Venomous Spider Bites

It is not necessary to seek emergency medical care for non-venomous spider bites. Home treatment includes the use of over-the-counter pain relievers to relieve any discomfort caused by the bite. To reduce the chance of infection, the area should be cleaned thoroughly using antibacterial soap and water. To reduce swelling, apply a cold compress to the area.

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