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Insect, Spider, and Scorpion Bites and Stings

Black widow spider and brown recluse spider.
The black widow (top) and brown recluse (bottom) are two poisonous spiders found in the United States.
Most insect bites are harmless and cause only minor swelling or itching. But if you’re allergic to insects such as wasps or bees, a sting can cause a life-threatening allergic reaction. Some ticks can carry and transmit serious diseases. The venom (poison) from scorpions and certain spiders can also be deadly, although this is rare. Knowing when to seek emergency care could save your life.

When to go to the emergency room (ER)

  • Scorpion sting

  • Bite from a black, red, or brown widow spider or brown recluse spider

  • Severe pain or swelling at the site of bite

  • A tick that is embedded in your skin and can not be easily removed at home

  • Signs of an allergic reaction such as:

    • Hives

    • Swelling of your eyes, lips, or the inside of your throat

    • Trouble breathing

    • Dizziness or confusion

What to expect in the ER

  • If you’re having trouble breathing, you’ll be given oxygen through a mask. In case of severe breathing difficulty, you may have a tube inserted in your throat and be placed on a ventilator (breathing machine).

  • If you are having a severe allergic reaction from a sting (called anaphylaxis), you may be given a shot of epinephrine. If it is known that you are allergic to bee or wasp stings, your doctor may give you a prescription for an "epi-pen" that you can keep with you at all times in case of a sting.

  • You may receive antivenin (a substance that reverses the effects of poison) for some spider bites and scorpion stings. Because antivenin can sometimes cause other problems, your doctor will weigh the risks and benefits of this treatment.

  • Steroids such as prednisone are often used to treat allergic reactions. In many cases, your doctor will also prescribe an antihistamine to help relieve itching.

Easing symptoms of an insect bite or sting

  • Try to remove a stinger you can see. Use your fingernail, a knife edge, or credit card to scrape against the skin. Do not squeeze or pull.

  • Apply ice or a cold compress to reduce pain and swelling (keep a thin cloth between the cold source and the skin).

Online Medical Reviewer: Image reviewed by StayWell art team.
Online Medical Reviewer: Moloney, Amanda Jane (Johns), PA-C, MPAS, BBA
Online Medical Reviewer: Perez, Eric, MD
Date Last Reviewed: 12/1/2016
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