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First Aid for a Brown Recluse Spider Bite

written by: Emma Lloyd • edited by: Leigh A. Zaykoski • updated: 11/27/2009

A bite from a brown recluse spider can cause severe tissue necrosis even when treated promptly. Learn how to provide first aid for a brown recluse spider bite to help minimize the injury.

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    The Brown Recluse Spider

    Loxosceles recluses, commonly known as the brown recluse spider, is found in many of the United States, with higher concentrations of the spider in the south. The spiders are native to Kansas, Mississippi, Oklahoma, and Texas.

    This spider is most well known for its necrotic venom, which can cause significant tissue death. Many other Loxosceles species found throughout the world, including in the United States, are also venomous.

    As its name suggests, the brown recluse prefers to live in quiet habitats that are not frequented by humans. Such places may include woodpiles, storage buildings, and attics. The spiders are a little over an inch in length as adults, and are usually most active at night. They are brown in color, with a violin-shaped marking on the “head”. The abdomen is a paler brown than the rest of the spider, and has no markings.

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    First Aid Treatment for a Brown Recluse Spider Bite

    A bite from a brown recluse spider can often go unnoticed, because initially no pain may be felt. A slight burning or itching sensation may be felt, which might be mistaken for a bee sting or another minor insect bite. The bite may only be noticed several hours later when it becomes painful.

    Pain and itching at the wound site may be either immediate or delayed symptoms. Someone who receives a brown recluse bite may also experience symptoms such as nausea, vomiting, fever, and muscle pain.

    Immediate first aid treatment for the bite should include washing the area and applying ice to help reduce inflammation. The bite will become itchy, inflamed, and painful for several days before beginning to heal. Generally there is no particular medication required for an uncomplicated bite: an antiseptic ointment should be applied, over-the-counter painkillers can be used, and ice can help reduce pain and inflammation. The bitten area should be kept elevated as much as possible to help improve circulation.

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    Do You Need Medical Treatment?

    An otherwise healthy adult may treat a brown recluse spider bite at home with first aid, if they feel comfortable doing so and are confident they can take care of the wound.

    If any nausea, vomiting, fever, or muscle pain are experienced, if the wound does not begin to heal within a few days, or if there are signs that the wound has become infected, seek medical attention.

    Children are at greater risk of system effects which may lead to renal failure or seizures. A child who is bitten should receive professional medical care rather than at-home first aid treatment, even if the bite seems uncomplicated.

    Anyone, adult or child, with diabetes or any other circulatory system diseases, or any acute or chronic illness, should seek medical attention without delay after being bitten, to reduce the risk of complications.

    It is not always easy to determine whether a bite is harmless or whether complications may be developing. As a general rule, if in doubt, visit a doctor or another medical professional. While brown recluse bites do not often lead to dangerous complications, if a wound becomes progressively worse and is not treated, it may result in extensive tissue death which may require surgery.

    This information is for educational purposes only, and should not be considered a substitute for professional medical advice.

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    References

    California Poison Action Line: Spider Bites

    Jerry R. Balentine, DO, FACEP; Samuel M Keim, MD for eMedicine Health: Brown Recluse Spider Bites

    Melissa Conrad Stoppler, MD for MedicineNet.com: Spider Bites

    Thomas Arnold, MD for eMedicine.com: Spider Envenomation, Brown Recluse