How to Identify and Treat a Brown Recluse Spider Bite

The brown recluse spider is not aggressive, but its venom can be dangerous and even deadly. It's important to know what to do after a brown recluse bite.

The brown recluse spider, AKA the violin spider, is common in the U.S. South and Midwest, but can be found throughout North America. Prone to hiding out in dark, quiet places, this shy arachnid only bites when forced into direct contact with human or animal skin. Although some brown recluse spider bites are relatively harmless, others can result in serious injury or even death.

What Does a Brown Recluse Spider Look Like?

Besides its brown, nearly hairless body and long, spindly legs, the brown recluse spider has a distinctive violin or fiddle shape on its head. It has six uniformly-sized eyes instead of the usual eight, but these eyes are difficult to distinguish. The body of a brown recluse spider is plain and brown, and nearly hairless. Shades vary in darkness.

Common Brown Recluse Locations

This type of spider sometimes hides in shoes or under bedding, and bites when the foot or body makes contact. People who work outdoors are also at risk, since the brown recluse spider often seeks shelter under logs or leaves. Since brown recluse spider bites are sometimes painless and may occur during sleep, victims may not even know they've been bitten.

Symptoms of a Brown Recluse Spider Bite

Symptoms can include any combination of the following at the site of the bite:  a stinging sensation, purpling of the skin or redness, a blister, or a lesion.  Other signs of a brown recluse bite are nausea, fever, intense abdominal or joint pain, severe headaches, swelling, rash, lethargy, chills, and, rarely, blood in the urine.

What to Do After a Brown Recluse Spider Bite

Call 911 or your doctor to determine what medical treatment is required. Although rare, coma, jaundice, seizures, kidney failure, and even death can occur, so time is of the essence; children are at the highest risk. Be prepared to provide the victim's age, approximate weight, type of spider, location of bite, and information on the person's general condition. 

 In the meantime, clean the bite area thoroughly with soap and water, and apply ice wrapped in cloth for 10 minutes on, then ten minutes off. Keep repeating the process. For arm or leg bites, elevate the area and tie a cloth above the bite (but not too tightly) to minimize the spreading of venom. Take a non-prescription pain pill and / or antihistamine to relieve discomfort and swelling. After receiving any necessary treatment, contact the National Poison Control Center anytime at 1-800-222-1222 with urgent or non-emergency questions about the bite.

Reducing the Risk of Future Brown Recluse Spider Bites

Inspect your bed for brown recluse spiders before climbing in, looking under sheets and even inside pillowcases. Shake robes, slippers, shoes, and other clothing items out before dressing. When working outdoors, take care when lifting wood, or reaching under porches or into dark places. Keeping your house as clutter-free as possible means providing fewer hiding places for these creepy crawlers.


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