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Insect, Spider, and Scorpion Bites and Stings

Most insect bites are harmless and cause only minor swelling or itching. But if you’re allergic to insects such as wasps or bees, a sting can cause a life-threatening allergic reaction. Some ticks can carry and transmit serious diseases. The venom (poison) from scorpions and certain spiders can also be deadly, although this is rare. Knowing when to seek emergency care could save your life.

Black widow spider and brown recluse spider.
The black widow (top) and brown recluse (bottom) are two poisonous spiders found in the United States.

When to go to the emergency room (ER)

Go to the nearest emergency room if you have any of the following:

  • Scorpion sting

  • Bite from a black, red, or brown widow spider or brown recluse spider

  • Severe pain or swelling at the site of bite

  • A tick that is embedded in your skin and can't be easily removed at home

  • Signs of an allergic reaction such as:

    • Hives

    • Swelling of your eyes, lips, or the inside of your throat

    • Trouble breathing

    • Dizziness or confusion

What to expect in the ER

  • If you’re having trouble breathing, you’ll be given oxygen through a mask. In severe cases, you may have a tube inserted in your throat and be placed on a breathing machine (ventilator).

  • If you are having a severe allergic reaction from a sting (anaphylaxis), you may be given a shot of epinephrine. If it's known that you are allergic to bee or wasp stings, your healthcare provider may give you a prescription for an autoinjector that you can keep with you at all times in case of a sting.

  • You may receive antivenin (a substance that reverses the effects of poison) for some spider bites and scorpion stings. Because antivenin can sometimes cause other problems, your healthcare provider will weigh the risks and benefits of this treatment.

  • Steroids such as prednisone are often used to treat allergic reactions. In many cases, an antihistamine to help relieve itching may also be prescribed.

Easing symptoms of an insect bite or sting

  • Try to remove a stinger you can see. Use your fingernail, a knife edge, or credit card to scrape against the skin. Don't squeeze or pull.

  • Apply ice or a cold compress to reduce pain and swelling (keep a thin cloth between the cold source and the skin).

Online Medical Reviewer: Eric Perez MD
Online Medical Reviewer: Raymond Kent Turley BSN MSN RN
Online Medical Reviewer: Rita Sather RN
Date Last Reviewed: 12/1/2019
© 2000-2019 The StayWell Company, LLC. 800 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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