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Spider Bites in Children

Facts about spider bites

All of the 3,000 species of spiders found in the United States are poisonous; however, their fangs are either too short or too fragile to break through human skin, or their venom is too weak to cause damage. The bites of most spiders cause only minor, local reactions, although a deadly reaction can occur.

In the United States, the two spiders that can cause serious problems are the black widow and the brown recluse spiders (sometimes called the violin spider). Both of these spiders are found in warm climates. If it is possible to kill or capture the spider without further harm to yourself or your child, it is important to do so. Place the spider in a glass jar or plastic container so it can be positively identified.

What is a brown recluse spider?

Brown Recluse spider and bite

The brown recluse spider, or violin spider, is about 1 inch long and has a violin shaped mark on its upper back. It is often found in warm, dry climates and prefers to stay in undisturbed areas such as basements, closets, and attics. It is not an aggressive spider, but will attack if trapped or held against the skin. No deaths have been reported in the U.S. from a brown recluse bite.

What are the symptoms of a brown recluse spider bite?

Venom from the brown recluse spider usually causes local tissue damage. The following are the most common symptoms of a bite from a brown recluse spider bite. However, each child may experience symptoms differently. Symptoms may include:

  • Burning, pain, itching, or redness at the site, which is usually delayed and may develop within several hours or days of the bite

  • A deep blue or purple area around the bite, surrounded by a whitish ring and large red outer ring similar to a "bulls eye"

  • An ulcer or blister that turns black

  • Headache, body aches

  • Rash

  • Fever

  • Nausea or vomiting

These symptoms may resemble other conditions or medical problems. Always consult your child's doctor for a diagnosis.

Treatment for a brown recluse spider bite

Specific treatment for a brown recluse spider bite will be determined by your child's doctor. Treatment may include:

  • Remain calm and reassure your child that you can help.

  • Wash the area well with soap and water.

  • Apply a cold or ice pack wrapped in a cloth, or a cold, wet washcloth to the site.

  • To protect against infection, particularly in children, apply an antibiotic lotion or cream.

  • Give acetaminophen for pain.

  • Elevate the site if the bite occurred on an arm or leg (to help prevent swelling).

  • Seek immediate emergency care for further treatment. Depending on the severity of the bite, surgical treatment of the wound may be required. No medications have been proven to help. Hospitalization may be needed.

  • Prompt treatment is essential to avoid more serious complications, especially in children.

What is a black widow spider?

Black Widow spider and bite

A black widow spider is a small, shiny black button-shaped spider with a red hourglass mark on its abdomen and that prefers warm climates. Widow spider bites release a toxin that can cause damage to the nervous system, thus, emergency medical treatment is necessary.

What are the symptoms of a black widow spider bite?

The following are the most common symptoms of a black widow spider bite. However, each child may experience symptoms differently. Symptoms may include:

  • Immediate pain, burning, swelling, and redness at the site (double fang marks may be seen)

  • Cramping pain and muscle rigidity in the stomach, chest, shoulders, and back

  • Headache

  • Dizziness

  • Rash and itching

  • Restlessness and anxiety

  • Sweating

  • Eyelid swelling

  • Nausea or vomiting

  • Salivation, tearing of the eyes

  • Weakness, tremors, or paralysis, especially in the legs

These symptoms may resemble other conditions or medical problems. Always consult your child's doctor for a diagnosis.

Treatment for a black widow spider bite

Specific treatment for a black widow spider bite will be determined by your child's doctor. Treatment may include:

  • Remain calm and reassure your child that you can help.

  • Wash the area well with soap and water.

  • Apply a cold or ice pack wrapped in a cloth, or a cold, wet washcloth to the site.

  • To protect against infection, particularly in children, apply an antibiotic lotion or cream.

  • Give acetaminophen for pain.

  • Seek immediate emergency care for further treatment. Depending on the severity of the bite, treatment may include muscle relaxants, pain relievers and other medications, and supportive care. Antivenin may be needed, although it is usually not required. Hospitalization may be needed.

  • Prompt treatment is essential to avoid more serious complications, especially in children.

Online Medical Reviewer: Gomez, Wanda, RN, Ph.D.
Online Medical Reviewer: newMentor board-certified, academically affiliated clinician
Date Last Reviewed: 4/29/2013
© 2000-2014 The StayWell Company, LLC. 780 Township Line Road, Yardley, PA 19067. All rights reserved. This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your healthcare professional's instructions.
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