What is a spider bite?

The greatest risks you face with a spider bite are if you ignore symptoms and don't get treatment soon enough.
The greatest risks you face with a spider bite are if you ignore symptoms and don't get treatment soon enough.

There are approximately 50 different types of spiders in the U.S. known to bite humans, and most are harmless. However, some spiders like the black widow and brown recluse are harmful because of their venom. Since some spider bites are life threatening, it is important to know when to see a doctor.

Symptoms of a spider bite

A spider bite is a red, inflamed area of the skin that has been punctured by a spider’s fangs. The most obvious way to tell if a spider has bitten you is the double fang marks that will be left.

Two spiders in particular have bites that are considered toxic to humans:

  • Brown recluse – this spider is brown and is sometimes called a violin or fiddle spider because it appears to have a violin-shaped mark on its head.
  • Black widow – this spider is completely black with a red hourglass shape on its underside.

Causes of a spider bite

Generally speaking, spiders are not aggressive creatures and only bite if they feel threatened. You may get too close to a spider and not even realize it is nearby when it bites.

Who can get a spider bite?

Spider bites can affect anyone. The two most dangerous spiders, brown recluse and black widows, both live in warmer climates.

How do you know if you have a spider bite?

The only way to know for certain if your symptoms are from a spider bite is if you saw the spider when it bit you. Otherwise, doctors may not be able to tell the difference between a spider bite and a bite from another insect. Other conditions that mimic symptoms of a spider bite include:

If you do feel a sting of pain and suspect a spider bite, safely check around you to see if you can identify what bit you.

More severe symptoms that can indicate a toxic spider bite include:

Diagnosis for a spider bite

Unless you can identify the species that bit you, an exact diagnosis is not possible. After you’ve talked to your doctor, they will treat your symptoms with the goal of preventing infection.

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Treatments for a spider bite

If you suspect a spider bite, wash the area immediately and apply a cold compress to reduce swelling. You can take pain medicine or an anti-inflammatory medication to relieve your symptoms. If your symptoms don’t improve and the bite is worsening, talk to your doctor about your spider bite.

You doctor can:

  • Prescribe antihistamines to relieve symptoms of itching
  • Prescribe antibiotics to treat and prevent the spread of infection
  • Recommend surgery for a deep wound or severe infection
  • Give a booster to your tetanus vaccination

Staying aware of your surroundings is the best way to prevent a spider from biting you. This is especially true in areas that are dark and warm like garages, closets, and other storage areas.

Additional steps you can take to prevent spider bites include:

  • Shaking out items like gloves and shoes before putting them on
  • Providing a warning to spiders by making noise when you walk into a dark area where they are likely to be
  • Clearing clutter that appeals to spiders
  • Seeking out pest control if you find that spiders are prevalent in your home

Complications of a spider bite

All medications and treatments pose the risk of side effects, so ask your doctor about what to expect.

The greatest risks you face with a spider bite are if you ignore symptoms and don’t get treatment soon enough. Always talk to your doctor about treatment if your symptoms aren’t improving.

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Medically Reviewed on 2/3/2021
References
American Osteopathic College of Dermatology: "Spider bites."

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: "Venomous spiders."

Poison Control: "Brown Recluse Spider Bites."

Stanford Children's Health: "Spider bites."