Spider Bites 101: Symptoms, Types and Treatment

Spider Bites

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Spider Bites 101: Symptoms, Types and Treatment

There are over 40,000 identified species of spider in the world, 3,000 of which are found in the U.S. and thousands more yet to be discovered.1,2 While almost all spiders have poison glands, most of them don’t actually bite without provocation.3

Spider bites are uncommon, and they usually happen after the spider has been squeezed, surprised, injured or trapped. When spiders do attack, their bites are generally harmless, as only a few types of spiders have fangs strong enough to pierce human skin and insert venom.4

However, this doesn’t mean that you should just ignore a spider bite, as some may lead to severe symptoms and, in rare cases, death.5 Read on to find out how to identify the different types of spider bites and what to do in case you’re bitten.

What Does a Spider Bite Look Like?

It’s important for you to learn how to identify a spider bite, especially if you’re living with kids or elderly people. Minor spider bites resemble other insect bites, which is why there are many reported “spider bite” cases that turn out to be caused by other bugs. They may also leave your skin itchy and inflamed, so they may be mistaken for a skin condition. If the spider bite becomes infected, the fang marks may also develop blisters or ulcers.6

However, identifying a spider bite by its looks alone is almost impossible, since the presence of a fang mark is not enough to indicate that you’ve been bitten by a spider and not by other bugs. To get a proper diagnosis and treatment plan, consult a doctor if you suspect that you or a loved one has been bitten by a spider. Infected bite wounds, allergy to venom and bites from large spiders may lead to severe symptoms that also require immediate medical attention.7,8

Spider Bite Symptoms That You Should Look Out For

The types and severity of symptoms from a spider bite may differ depending on a variety of factors, including the type of spider that bit you, the amount of venom injected into your body and your body’s sensitivity to the venom. Most harmless spider bites are associated with the following symptoms:9,10,11

  • Small, red bump/s
  • Itching or rashes 
  • Pain around the area of bite
  • Swelling
  • Bruises or skin damage

Bites from venomous spiders may also cause other severe reactions, such as:

Headaches

Muscle cramp

Nausea and vomiting

Hypertension

Stomach pain

Fever

Difficulty breathing

Joint pain

Increased sensitivity to light and sound

Different Types of Spider Bites

Only a few types of spiders can inflict a medically significant bite, including:

Brown recluse

Found throughout the southern states of U.S., the brown recluse spider is characterized by a dark, violin-shaped marking on its back. It usually hides in dark, dry and secluded places like wood piles, attics and closets.

The brown recluse is not aggressive and will only bite  it if feels threatened. Its bites are typically painless at first and will not show any symptoms until a few hours after.12

Black widow

Commonly found in the southern and western parts of U.S., the black widow spider is characterized by its shiny black coloring and red hourglass-shaped marking on the abdomen.

Black widow spider bites may initially feel painful. The bitten area will immediately show small, red fang marks.13,14

Funnel-web spider

The Australian funnel-web spider is considered the most dangerous spider in the world, since it attacks humans without provocation.15

Its bite is very painful and may lead to neurotoxic effects. Some of the symptoms associated with funnel-web spider bites include nausea, vomiting, diaphoresis, hypertension and non-cardiac pulmonary edema.16

Hobo spider

Hobo spiders are commonly found in the Pacific Northwest, hidden under wood piles and retaining walls. They’re usually distinguished by their brown coloring and light stripe running down the middle of their body.

Research shows that the bite of a hobo spider is not as toxic as it was believed to be. However, it may still cause redness, swelling and mild pain.17,18,19

Yellow sac spider

Yellow sac spiders were once believed to be dangerous, but research shows that their venom is not that toxic. They’re abundant in North America, commonly found in kitchens and bathrooms at night.20 The bite of a yellow sac spider may be painful, but its effects do not last long.21

Tarantula

Tarantulas are shy spiders that grow between 3 and 5 inches long. They’re commonly known for their hairy body and protruding fangs.22

A tarantula bite is painful and may continue to hurt for up to a week. The site of the bite may also become inflamed. Some tarantulas can flick the barbed hair from their belly into your skin, which may cause itching, swelling and irritation.23

Wolf spider

Often confused with brown recluse spiders, wolf spiders are typically found in meadows and grasslands, where they hunt for prey.

Wolf spider bites are painful, but they rarely cause systemic symptoms and cutaneous necrosis.24

Grass spider

Grass spiders, scientifically known as Agelenopsis aperta, can inflict a painful bite that may swell and itch for up to 10 days.25

Among the spiders mentioned above, only the black widow and brown recluse are found in the United States.26 If you think you’ve been bitten by any of these spiders, be sure to seek medical attention right away.

Spider Bite Stages

The duration of spider bites symptoms and their healing stage depend on the type of spider that bit you and the potency of its venom. These are stages for the two most dangerous spiders in U.S.:27,28,29,30

Stage Brown recluse Black widow
Initial symptoms A brown recluse’s bite is usually painless, although some people may feel a mild stinging sensation on the bitten area. A black widow’s bite produces stinging sensations. Soon after, the bitten area develops two red punctured marks.
Early symptoms Redness, swelling and burning sensations may occur on the bite site within the first hour. You may experience pain, redness and swelling on the bite site between 30 minutes and two hours after being bitten.
Later symptoms Over the next eight hours, the bite site will form a white blister with a red halo and a blue or purple center.

If left untreated, it will evolve into an ulcer that may continue growing 10 days after the bite.

You may also experience fever, chills, nausea and joint pain after one to two days of being bitten.
Other systemic symptoms like severe stomach pain, muscle cramps, nausea, headaches and difficulty breathing may occur 24 to 48 hours after you’ve been bitten.
Healing stage The wound from a brown recluse bite may take up to two months to heal. Severe symptoms usually resolve a few days after they occur, whereas milder symptoms may last for a few weeks.

Spider Bite Treatment

If you’re bitten by a venomous spider, you should consult a physician immediately to get treatment, even if you’re unsure of the type of spider that bit you. Meanwhile, for bites inflicted by non-dangerous spiders, there are many ways to relieve the symptoms at home. The conventional way to help treat a spider bite involves taking over-the-counter (OTC) anti-inflammatory medicines, antihistamines and antibiotics.31 Keep in mind, though, that these medicines have a long list of side effects. 

You can relieve your symptoms without the use of risky medications. Here’s how to get rid of spider bites using natural home remedies: 32,33,34,35

  • Use a cold compress: Apply cold compress or an ice pack on the bite site every 10 minutes to help reduce pain and swelling.
  • Elevate the area of the bite: If you’re bitten on the arm or leg, keep it raised to help alleviate the swelling of the affected body part.
  • Clean the bite: Use plain soap and water when cleaning the bite to help reduce the risk of infections.
  • Use aloe vera: Apply aloe vera on the bite site — its anti-inflammatory properties may help reduce swelling.36
  • Apply baking soda paste: Make a paste using baking soda and water, and apply it on the bite to relieve itching.

Essential Oils for Spider Bite Symptom Relief

If you’re looking for other safe and holistic way to relieve the general symptoms of a spider bite, then you should try using these essential oils:37

  • Lavender oil: Known for its calming effects, lavender oil may also help reduce pain and inflammation.38,39 Be sure to dilute it with a carrier oil, such as olive oil or coconut oil, to prevent skin irritation. 
  • Chamomile oil: This oil may help inhibit inflammation, itching and burning sensations caused by a spider bite.40 A study published in the International Journal of Molecular Science also shows that chamomile may help promote wound healing.41
  • Tea tree oil: This oil has antimicrobial and anti-inflammatory properties, which may help alleviate the swelling in the area of the spider bite, as well as reduce the risk for infections.42
  • Peppermint oil: This oil has antimicrobial properties,43 which may help keep the spider bite from getting infected. It also has a cooling effect on the skin,44 which may potentially reduce the burning and stinging sensations caused by the spider venom.

Spider Bites Are Absolutely Preventable

Whether you live in an area with many spiders or not, you should always take precautions to prevent getting bitten by one. Always keep in mind that most spiders love to hide in dark, secluded places that are left undisturbed for long periods of time. Before reaching into unused belongings, furniture or wood piles, check for spiders first. You should also wear pants, gloves, boots and long-sleeved shirts when cleaning sheds, attics, garages, basements and other tight spaces.45

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) About Spider Bites

Q: Do spider bites itch?

A: Yes, itching is one of the common symptoms of spider bites.46

Q: What can you do to relieve the symptoms of a spider bite ?

A: The conventional method for relieving spider bite symptoms involves the use of OTC antihistamines, anti-inflammatory and antibiotic medicines, which may put you at risk of side effects. If you want to relieve your symptoms safely and naturally, apply a cold compress or an ice pack on the bite site to reduce the swelling.47

You can also put aloe vera on the spider bite to reduce inflammation or use baking soda paste to alleviate itching. Essential oils like lavender, tea tree and chamomile oils may also provide anti-inflammatory, antimicrobial and soothing properties, which may help relieve various spider bite symptoms.48

Q: How long does a spider bite take to heal?

A: The recovery time of a spider bite depends on what kind of spider bit you and your body’s reaction to the venom. If the bite is from a non-dangerous spider, then it will take only a few days to resolve. Spider bites may also last for as long as two months before completely healing if it’s inflicted by a venomous spider like the brown recluse.49,50