It’s a fact of life: Your child will experience a few boo-boos over the years.
Especially when they’re babies, every injury may send you running to a place of worry and guilt. Know that you’re doing a great job and shouldn’t feel guilty for the inevitable bumps and bruises on your parenting journey.
Plus, the vast majority of the time, there’s no reason to be alarmed.
But in rare situations — like when baby gets certain bug and spider bites — your little one might require immediate attention or medical treatment.
So what should you do if your child is bitten by a spider? And how do you know which spider bites are dangerous and which are harmless? Here’s the info you need.
Steps to take right now
If you suspect that your baby received a bite from a black widow or brown recluse spider or if baby is experiencing more severe reactions to a bite, seek medical care.
Call 911 immediately if:
- Your baby has trouble breathing or is wheezing.
- Your baby faints or has trouble standing (if they’re old enough to stand).
Call your pediatrician if:
- Your baby develops a fever.
- The bite looks infected and any inflammation begins to spread.
- The bite continues to get worse or causes pain for more than 2 days after it happens.
Even though no parent wants to see their baby covered in bug bites, most spider bites are relatively harmless.
This is because most bites don’t go all the way through the skin, due to the tiny size of spider fangs. (It’s the injection of venom into the skin that causes reactions.)
So, while your baby might feel a little irritation or discomfort when bitten by a spider, there’s usually no need to worry. Still, monitor your child closely to ensure that no symptoms appear over time that might indicate a serious allergic reaction.
Although the majority of spider bites aren’t dangerous, more than 50 species of spiders in the United States are venomous. Typically, a bite from these spiders might cause minor reactions such as pain and redness at the bite site or swelling.
However, there are two spiders — the brown recluse and the black widow — that are extremely dangerous, with bites that can lead to severe reactions in children and adults.
Identifying a brown recluse spider
The brown recluse is a brown spider that can be around half an inch in size. It has long legs and a dark violin-shaped mark on the top of its head. In the United States, these spiders are usually found in the Central and Southern states.
While experts know what these spiders look like, they can be hard to identify if you’re not familiar.
So, if you suspect that a brown recluse spider might have bitten your baby, try capturing the spider in a jar for identification. However, do this only if you can do so safely without risking getting bitten.
Identifying a black widow spider
A black widow spider is jet-black and shiny and usually measures up to 1 inch in size. These spiders have long legs and a red or orange hourglass-shaped mark on their underside.
Note that there’s a variant, known as the brown widow, that’s equally dangerous. In the United States, both the black and brown widow spiders are usually found in the South.
What about wolf spiders?
Wolf spiders look similar to brown recluse spiders and are often mistaken for them. They’re usually large and hairy and can be anywhere from 1/2 to 2 inches long. One of their most recognizable features is their large eyes that shine in the light.
While it can look intimidating, this spider isn’t venomous. So, if your baby does get bitten by a wolf spider, the reaction will usually be minimal.
Because most spider bites are harmless, the good news is that at-home care is usually more than enough to treat them.
Especially if you know that your baby wasn’t bitten by a venomous spider, you can easily care for them by:
- washing the bite area with gentle soap and water (depending on where on the body the bite is, you may need to do this several times a day — babies are messy!)
- gently rubbing in baby-friendly antibiotic lotion to keep infection away
- using an ice pack, a bag of frozen vegetables (wrapped in a towel), or a cool damp cloth to help ease swelling and discomfort
- giving infant Tylenol if your baby’s pain seems to be preventing them from sleeping or being consoled
As long as baby’s symptoms don’t get worse, there’s no cause for alarm. However, if symptoms worsen or don’t improve after a couple days, contact a pediatrician or a healthcare professional.
Treating a venomous spider bite
If your child was bitten by a venomous spider and you’re beginning to see more serious symptoms, call your doctor or go for emergency treatment immediately. If you suspect a black or brown widow bite, go to the emergency room immediately.
The treatment methods will vary depending on which venomous spider bit your baby.
Black or brown widow bite treatment may require a variety of medications and pain relievers to help ease the symptoms. And in some cases, medical professionals may prescribe an anti-venom to help counteract the venom released from the bite. Sometimes, treatment may require a hospital stay.
Brown recluse spider bites can be more concerning, since there’s no medication to treat them. Much of the treatment focuses on preventing tissue breakdown because the venom is known to cause skin damage. In some cases, surgery is necessary, which may require a hospital stay.
This isn’t meant to scare you — but it does point to how important it is to get medical treatment if the bite is from a more dangerous source.
Identifying a spider bite can help you to know whether to head to the doctor or give a little TLC at home.
If you need to get medical attention, your pediatrician or a medical practitioner will inspect your baby’s bite area to determine if a spider was the culprit. But they’ll also rely on the presence of other symptoms to confirm a spider bite diagnosis.
If you suspect that a black widow or a brown recluse spider might have bitten your baby, you’ll want to be on the lookout for the following symptoms.
Note that while redness is often a visual symptom listed with spider bites, this indicator might be harder to see on darker skin tones. Because of this, it’s important to watch for the other symptoms that can indicate your child was bitten by a venomous spider.
Black or brown widow spider bites
If your baby gets bitten by a black widow spider, symptoms can set in in the bat of an eye — minutes up to just a couple of hours.
Although brown and black widow spider bites aren’t usually considered deadly in adults, there’s a greater risk for babies — just think about the relative sizes of babies and adults (though both are many times bigger than the spider).
While the bite itself might not feel painful, your baby may have:
- belly pain or stiffness
- vomiting and nausea
- difficulty breathing
- Itchiness or rash
- weakness or an inability to move
Your baby may also have symptoms that you don’t see and they can’t communicate, like a headache or dizziness.
Brown recluse spider bites
Brown recluse bites can take more time for the severe side effects to appear. In some cases, it may take days.
One of the most notable symptoms is that the bite site will turn blue or purple over a few days and will eventually depress, looking somewhat like a crater.
Sometimes the bite is surrounded by a whitish ring and a larger red ring outside of it. Again, depending on your child’s skin tone, seeing those color changes may be difficult, so pay attention to the texture and appearance of the skin around the bite.
Brown recluse spider bites are usually not life threatening, but there’s a tiny risk for skin damage. Very rarely, people have needed skin grafting treatments to repair skin damage that occurred. (This isn’t specific to babies.)
Still, the following additional symptoms are often associated with these bites:
- itching, burning, and pain at the bite site
- ulcers or blisters at the bite
- fever, muscle pain, or vomiting
Harmless spider bites
Considering that the majority of spiders aren’t venomous, you’re more likely to come across a spider bite from a harmless species.
Typically, symptoms in baby are very mild and will include slight pain at the bite along with localized redness and maybe a little tenderness.
Most likely, your baby might have a little swelling or pain for a couple of days — but the discomfort should go away with lots of kisses and appropriate home care.
If your baby was bitten by a nonvenomous spider, they’ll experience mild symptoms and be back to their regularly scheduled programming within a few days — much like if you got a bee sting and aren’t allergic to bees. This boo-boo is just a bump in the road.
With venomous bites, the timeline can vary depending on how serious the symptoms are and how fast you get baby medical attention. For black widow bites, severe symptoms usually improve within a few days while mild symptoms may last for a few weeks.
However, brown recluse bites have a more fluid timeline — a few days to a few months — that depends on how much venom was injected and whether the venom spreads. If the venom spreads, tissue breakdown can occur.
One of the best ways to prevent spider bites is to ensure that your baby is wearing protective clothing if they’re playing outdoors in areas where spiders may be present. And make sure common spider hiding places like garages, basements, and sheds are free from cobwebs.
Many spiders — including venomous ones — like to spend time in or near wood. So, keeping firewood or woodpiles outside can help minimize the risk of spider bites.
Rest assured, parents: Most spider bites are harmless.
But when it comes to your precious little one, taking a extra precautions and being watchful for any potential worsening of symptoms can help put your mind at ease.
If your baby is bitten by a venomous spider, seek medical attention immediately.