Did you know that spiders are found on every continent of the world, except Antarctica?
Unless you manage to escape to the polar region, chances are that you will get bitten by a spider at one time or another. While spiders are not aggressive, they usually bite when they feel threatened or get trapped between a piece of clothing and your body.
If this has triggered your arachnophobia – an unusual, unfounded or strong fear of spiders – be assured that not all spider bites are so grave and definitely not life-threatening.
Notoriously famous for being evil 8-legged creatures who are out to get you, spiders carry a lot of unwarranted bad rep. As threatening as they may look, most spiders are rather docile.
Unless of course, you happen upon a black widow or a brown recluse in which case it’s best to keep your distance. If you happen to spot one of these two breeds gnawing on your skin, seek immediate medical help.
For the rest and vast majority of spiders, neither their fangs nor the venom they carry is strong enough to cause any severe repercussions and bites can be treated within a week using household remedies.
While spider bites can take the form of a painful blister or rash, some carry an uncanny resemblance with regular insect bites or skin infections (1).
Plus, the fact that the inserted venom takes its time to manifest identifiable symptoms makes it even more confusing and difficult to differentiate between the two.
Thus, you will have to monitor the bite site and associated symptoms before you can be completely certain that your bite does not pose any serious risk.
- Some of the symptoms of a spider bite include:
- Identifying Poisonous Spider Bites
- Treatment of Spider Bites
- When to See a Doctor
- Home Remedies for Spider Bites
- Method 1: Ice Compress
- Method 2: Baking Soda
- Method 3: Salt
- Method 4: Activated Charcoal
- Method 5: Manuka Honey
- Method 6: Bentonite Clay
- Method 7: Tea Tree Oil
- Tips to keep in mind
Some of the symptoms of a spider bite include:
- The bitten area turns painful
- Redness and swelling around the affected site
- Stinging or burning sensation around the bite site
- Development of blisters and/or a rash on the affected area
If a poisonous spider bites you, additional symptoms may include:
- Increased Heart Rate
- Red-colored ring or halo surrounding the initial bite site
- Black discoloration of bite site due to tissue death
- Muscle pain and/or spasms.
Identifying Poisonous Spider Bites
There are close to 40,000 known species of spiders, all of which are venomous. But lucky for us, most of these spiders have fangs that are too short or too fragile to penetrate the skin and thereby inject the venom.
That said, there still are certain species that can prove lethal by inducing serious systemic reactions in the body with just one bite, which include: (2)
- Brown spiders such as brown recluse (Loxosceles sp), Violin, or fiddleback.
- Widow spiders like Black widow (Latrodectus sp), brown widow (geometricus)
Both these species generally reside in warm climates and dark, dry places. Contrary to popular belief, these potentially dangerous spiders are by and large timid and non-aggressive which do not attack unless provoked.
Reclusive by nature, these spiders are often found in dry, littered, undisturbed areas such as closets, woodpiles and under sinks.
Black/Brown Widow Spider Bite
The black widow is a shiny, jet-black spider with long legs (total size 1 inch or 25 mm). A red or orange hourglass-shaped marking can easily identify a spider of this variant on its underside.
Moreover, another relative of the black widow which is primarily native to the southern USA is the brown widow. Bites from both these spiders engender the same symptoms and warrant the same treatment.
Symptoms of Black/Brown Widow Spider Bite:
- Causes immediate local pain which may gradually become more severe and extend to the abdomen, chest, or back.
- The affected area may become increasingly swollen after envenomation.
- You may notice 2 fang marks at the bite site.
- Severe muscle cramps particularly in the abdomen which occur within 1 to 6 hours and last for about 24 to 48 hours.
- A single bite from a lonesome spider rarely proves fatal, except in the case of small children. Conversely, being bitten by several spiders at once can prove far more detrimental and life-threatening.
Brown recluse spider Bite
The characteristic traits of a brown recluse spider or violin spider are that they are about 1 inch long and have a violin-shaped mark on their upper back.
Although this spider is not typically aggressive, the brown recluse is likely to acquire a more attacking demeanor and whip out its fangs if trapped or held against the skin.
The venomous bite from the brown recluse spider usually causes local tissue damage and is accompanied by the following symptoms:
- You are bound to experience burning, pain, itching, or redness at the bite site, not immediately but progressively over the next several hours or days of the bite
- The area around the bite turns pale with bluish or purplish hues encircled by a whitish ring and large red outer ring akin to a "bull's eye."
- The development of an ulcer or blister that turns black over time
- Headache, body aches
- Stiffness or pain in the joints
- Fever and chills
- The bite site is without any pus
- Nausea or vomiting
Treatment of Spider Bites
The first-line treatment for most spider bites, including black widow and brown recluse spider bites, involves the following measures:
- Disinfect the bite site by cleaning it with mild soap and water. Subsequently, apply an antibiotic ointment to the affected site. Gentle application of a cool compress onto the affected site is one of the easiest and preliminary ways to alleviate the pain and swelling (3).
- If any of your limbs happen to be bitten, it is well-advised to keep the bite-ridden arm or leg elevated. (3)
- Over-the-counter medications including conventional pain relievers, such as acetaminophen (Tylenol, others) or ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin IB, others), or an antihistamine (Benadryl, Chlor-Trimeton, others) can help manage the discomforts following a spider bite.
- Keep a close eye on the bite site for any signs of infection.
Your doctor may also recommend a tetanus booster shot if you haven't had one in the last five years. You may need antibiotics if the bite becomes infected.
When to See a Doctor
Spider bites from especially venomous species such as a black widow or brown recluse may start off mild but can get dangerously severe over time.
Thus, such spider bites, however harmless they might seem, are not to be taken lightly. If you suspect that you have been bitten by any of the above-mentioned species, call your primary care doctor or go to an urgent care center to rule out future complications.
The following symptoms further necessitate the need for prompt professional help:
- If a local reaction continues to deteriorate for more than 24 hours.
- If you notice the venom-induced redness and swelling spreading away from the bite site.
- If your wound starts to drain or show signs of any kind of discharge.
- If the pain tends to get progressively worse.
- If you experience numbness/tingling or lightheadedness.
- If there is discoloration around the bite that resembles a halo or bulls-eye.
- In very rare cases, the bite from an otherwise harmless and non-threatening spider was found to engender an allergic response in some individuals. This reaction can even take severe forms such as an anaphylactic shock which can be life-threatening if not treated by a medical professional.
Home Remedies for Spider Bites
If you are absolutely sure that you have been doomed with a spider bite, don’t worry. We’ve compiled the top 7 home remedies to treat a spider bite and reduce the accompanying pain and itching.
Method 1: Ice Compress
Applying ice on a spider bite is the best first aid to get immediate relief from the sting. The coolness of the ice helps bring down the inflammation and reduce burning and soreness.
Single-Step Treatment: Apply an ice pack on the fresh bite
- Place 1 or 2 ice cubes on a flannel cloth.
- Bundle up the cloth and use it as a cold compress over the spider bite.
- Place the ice pack over the area for not more than 15 minutes at a stretch.
Apply it every hour for the first 6 hours to bring down the inflammation quickly.
Method 2: Baking Soda
A baking soda paste can also be used to relieve the discomforts of a spider bite.
While not clinically studied, it is thought to work by neutralizing the venom and reducing the pain and itching.
Step 1. Make a paste of baking soda and water
- Put 1 tablespoon of baking soda in a small bowl.
- Add 1 tablespoon of water and mix the two well to form a thick paste.
Step 2. Apply the paste on the bite
- Use a spoon to place a dollop of the paste on the bite.
- Give it a light rub and let it sit for 5 minutes.
- Rinse it off with water and pat dry your skin.
Repeat 3 or 4 times to treat the spider bite in a day.
Method 3: Salt
Salt is an age-old antiseptic to many wounds, including spider bites. It works disinfecting the area to prevent any infection. Salt also helps minimize soreness. You can use warm salt water to make a warm compress. (5)
Step 1. Prepare a warm salt solution
- Add 1 teaspoon of salt to 1 cup of warm water. You can use kosher or sea salt instead of common salt, depending on your preference.
- Mix well until the salt is completely dissolved in the water.
Step 2. Soak a cloth in the solution and use it as a warm compress
- Soak a flannel cloth in the saline solution.
- Wring out the excess water.
- Press the warm cloth against the bitten area, until the warmth dissipates.
- Rewet the cloth and continue to hold it over the bite for 10 minutes.
- The warm salt compress will give you instant relief from the sting.
Repeat the remedy 3 or 4 times a day to heal the bite in 1 or 2 days.
Method 4: Activated Charcoal
Charcoal can be used to treat spider bites and many other insect bites. The tiny pores in the activated charcoal work as an excellent absorbent, trapping harmful chemicals.
Single-Step Treatment: Apply an activated charcoal paste on the spider bite
- Add 1 teaspoon of water to 1 teaspoon of activated charcoal.
- Mix well and apply the paste on the spider bite.
- Leave it on for 4 hours before you rinse it off. You can cover it with a bandage to keep it in place.
Repeat the procedure 2 or 3 times a day. Depending on which spider stung you, the duration of recovery can vary from 1 or 2 days to 1 week (in the case of a brown recluse).
Method 5: Manuka Honey
Honey has great healing powers that can quickly heal wounds, treat bacterial infections and also successfully handle a spider bite. The honey inherent antimicrobial properties, disinfecting it and aiding in faster recovery. (6)
Single-Step Treatment: Apply Manuka honey on the spider bite
- Smear some Manuka honey on the spider bite. Make sure to cover the entire area that feels sore.
- Leave it on for 4 to 5 hours.
- Wipe it off and reapply.
Apply Manuka honey over the bite 3 or 4 times a day for 3 to 4 days. A black widow bite may take longer (1 week) to heal completely.
Method 6: Bentonite Clay
Bentonite clay is being studied for its antibacterial effects and shows promise in wound healing (7). Usage of this clay for spider bite treatment may aid in keeping the wound free from infection.
Single-Step Treatment: Apply Bentonite clay paste on the bite
- Put ½ tablespoon of Bentonite clay in a bowl.
- Mix in enough water to form a thick paste.
- Apply a poultice of Bentonite clay on the bite.
- Secure the poultice with a bandage and leave it on for 2 hours.
- Rinse it off with water and pat dry your skin.
Use the Bentonite clay poultice 2 or 3 times a day until the bite heals completely.
Method 7: Tea Tree Oil
Tea tree oil is an excellent antibacterial and antimicrobial agent that relieves itching, stinging and inflammation. Since tea tree oil is a concentrated oil, it is best to dilute it in a carrier oil before applying it to the skin. You can use either castor or olive oil for this purpose. (8)
Single-Step Treatment: Dilute tea tree oil in olive oil and apply it on the bite
- Add 3 or 4 drops of tea tree essential oil to 1 tablespoon of olive oil.
- Mix the two well and apply it on the spider bite.
- Allow the skin to absorb the oil completely.
Reapply the oil blend 3 or 4 times a day. Continue doing so until the bite is completely healed.
Tips to keep in mind
- Keep the bitten area elevated to help reduce the swelling and pain.
- You can also take Benadryl for pain relief.
- If you know for sure that it is a spider bite, wash the area thoroughly using a mild soap.
- Remain calm and still to reduce the spread of the venom.
- Juckett G. Arthropod bites. American family physician. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24364549?dopt=Abstract. Published December 15, 2013.
- Rahmani F, Banan Khojasteh SM, Ebrahimi Bakhtavar H, Rahmani F, Shahsavari Nia K, Faridaalaee G. Poisonous Spiders: Bites, Symptoms, and Treatment; an Educational Review. Emergency (Tehran, Iran). https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4614586/. Published 2014.
- Anoka IA. Brown Recluse Spider Toxicity. StatPearls [Internet]. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK537045/. Published January 22, 2019.
- Payne KS, Schilli K, Meier K, et al. Extreme pain from brown recluse spider bites: model for cytokine-driven pain. JAMA Dermatology. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25076008. Published November 1, 2014.
- Chronic wounds: Overview. InformedHealth.org [Internet]. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK326431/. Published June 14, 2018.
- Martinotti S, Ranzato E. Honey, Wound Repair and Regenerative Medicine. Journal of functional biomaterials. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6023338/. Published May 8, 2018.
- Williams LB, Metge DW, Eberl DD, et al. What makes a natural clay antibacterial? Environmental science & technology. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3126108/. Published April 15, 2011.
- Pazyar N, Yaghoobi R, Rafiee E, Mehrabian A, Feily A. Skin wound healing and phytomedicine: a review. Skin pharmacology and physiology. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24993834. Published 2014.