It can often seem like spiders are everywhere, and when you consider that more than 100,000 species of spiders have been identified, they probably are.
Even with only 4,000 species of spiders in North America, that’s a lot of spiders.
And believe it or not, that’s a good thing. All of those spiders eat up to 800 million metric tons of insects each year!
Fortunately, very few of these spiders are dangerous.
In the Unites States, just two species of spiders are poisonous enough to cause harm. They include the black widow spider (Latrodectus mactans) and the brown recluse spider (Loxosceles reclusa).
Even in other parts of the world that have more of a variety of venomous spiders, like Australia, that “reputation is bigger than its bite.”
It is important to remember than even venomous black widow and brown recluse spiders aren’t wandering around your house trying to attack your kids. They usually like to live in places where they won’t be disturbed. So unless your child was crawling through boxes in a closet or attic, or some other place where they might have disturbed a spider, it is unlikely that any bites on their skin were caused by a “bad spider.”
And in most cases, any “bite marks” probably weren’t caused by a spider at all, as many experts think that spider bites are over-diagnosed. Many other conditions, including other insect bites and skin infections can mimic spider bites.
Symptoms of a Spider Bite
Surprisingly, most spider bites aren’t that painful. Although it may feel like a pin prick, many bites often go unnoticed, making it hard to know if you have been bitten.
Common spider bite symptoms can include a single bite mark with:
In fact, most spider bites will resemble a bee sting. Your child may also develop hives and other allergy symptoms if they are allergic to the spider bite.
Symptoms of a black widow spider bite cold include severe muscle pain and cramps, which develop within a few hours of the bite. Other symptoms might include weakness, vomiting, trouble breathing, abdominal pain, and high blood pressure.
Brown recluse spider bites can be painful. In addition to pain, these spider bites might cause burning and itching. Another characteristic finding is that the spider bite may look like a bull’s eye, with a red ring around a white center that turns into an ulcer.
Was Your Child Really Bitten By a Spider?
The most obvious way to diagnose a spider bite is to see the spider biting your child.
Keep in mind that since many of us have spiders in and around our homes, simply seeing a spider and then noticing a bite on your child doesn’t necessarily mean that your child has a spider bite.
As hard as it sometimes is to tell if a child even has a spider bite, it can be even harder to determine what type of spider actually bit him. Again, seeing the spider can help, as “bad spiders” have very characteristic features.
The black widow spider is jet black, with a red hourglass marking on the underside of their abdomen. Brown recluse spiders are smaller, are yellowish-tan to dark brown, and have a violin shaped marking on their back.
Should you try to catch a spider to help your doctor identify it? Probably not, as you are more likely to bring your pediatrician a crushed spider that is impossible to identify than anything useful. And you should likely be concentrating on taking care of your child after he has been bitten, instead of chasing after the spider.
What to Do If a Spider Bites Your Child
For most spider bites, you can follow some simple home treatments, including:
- washing the spider bite with soap and water
- apply an ice cube to the bite for about 20 minutes
- giving your child a pain medicine, such as acetaminophen (Tylenol) or ibuprofen (Motrin or Advil)
- applying a topical antibiotic ointment to the bite two or three times a day
- applying a topical steroid cream to help control itching and redness a few times a day
- continuing home treatments for one or two days, the typical time that it takes a spider bite to go away
Of course, you should seek medical attention if you think your child was bitten by a black widow spider or brown recluse spider, or if any spider bite seems like it is getting infected, with increasing redness and pain after a few days.
Don’t overlook the fact that your local poison control center (1-800-222-1222) can be a good resource if you think your child was bitten by a poisonous spider.
What to Know About Spider Bites and Kids
Other things to know about spider bites include that:
- Even the poisonous black widow spiders and brown recluse spiders rarely cause life-threatening symptoms or death.
- In addition to seeking medical attention for a black widow spider or brown recluse spider bite, see your pediatrician if a spider bite isn’t getting better in a few days.
- Kids may need a tetanus shot after a spider bite.
- Spiders usually bite just once, so if a child has multiple bites, then it likely isn’t from a spider.
- Although parents often look for the double fang marks in trying to identify a spider bite, they usually aren’t seen, and even when you see “fang marks,” it doesn’t mean that your child was bitten by a spider.
- Instead of a black widow or brown recluse, it is more likely that you will come across a more harmless spider in or around your home, like a grass spider, wolf spider, orb weaver, or daddy-long-legs.
Most importantly, teach your kids to avoid spiders by shaking out shoes and clothing that are lying on the floor and not storing boxes or other items on the closet floor or underneath your child’s bed. You can help keep spiders out of your child’s crib or bed by making sure any bedding doesn’t touch the floor.
And remember that spiders eat insects, so might help keep your kids free of other types of bites.
More About Spiders and Spider Bites
- Spiders of Medical Importance
- CDC – Types of Venomous Spiders
- How to Identify and Misidentify a Brown Recluse Spider
- How to Identify and Misidentify a Black Widow Spider
- Urban Spider Chart
- North American Spider List
- If You Don’t Like Insects, You Should Love Spiders
- The 10 Most Dangerous Spiders in the World
- Australian spiders: the 10 most dangerous
Last Updated on July 25, 2017 by Vincent Iannelli, MD