Spiders want to avoid people as much as we want to avoid them, but when they feel threatened, spiders will bite. This can happen if you surprise or startle a spider, roll over on one in bed, step on a spider, or swipe your hand in a spider’s direction.
In many cases, spider bites can be treated at home. Although every species of spider injects venom through their fangs to paralyze their prey, most spider venom is not strong enough to act as toxin in humans.
Some spider venom is toxic to people, however, and can definitely be dangerous. In the United States, recluse and widow spiders pose the greatest threat.
If you are bitten by a venomous spider and go into shock or are having trouble breathing, call 911 immediately.
If you are bitten by a species of spider with less toxic venom, home remedies for spider bites can minimize pain and discomfort, and speed up healing.
For more severe spider bite reactions, you can use these same remedies after you have been medically treated, but be sure to talk to a doctor first.
Treatment for a nonvenomous spider bite
While these spiders may have venom that they use to attack their prey, the venom poses no to very minor risks to humans. Bites from the following spiders are unlikely to cause more than minor irritation, unless you are allergic:
- funnel web grass spider
- orb weaving spider
- cellar spider (daddy longlegs)
- huntsman spider (found primarily in warmer states)
- jumping spider
When you discover a mild spider bite, first wash the area with soap and water to clear any venom, dirt, or bacteria that could enter your bloodstream through the puncture wound.
You may find a cold compress or ice pack soothing and can apply a bandage to protect the wound. Before covering the bite, consider using an over-the-counter (OTC) medicated cream:
- antihistamine or hydrocortisone cream to help with itching
- triple antibiotic cream to discourage infection or if you are blistering
- analgesic cream to reduce pain
If OTC treatments don’t do the trick, or you want to help speed your healing, there are some natural home remedies for spider bites that may work.
- Lavender oil may reduce pain.
- Rose oil can relax clenched muscles.
- Bergamot works against nerve pain.
- Chamomile can reduce skin inflammation and irritation.
Treatment for a venomous spider bite
If you believe you have been bitten by a brown recluse or black widow spider, don’t delay getting medical care. Call a doctor if you’ve been bitten by one of the following most common venomous spiders in the United States:
- brown recluse spider (Central and Southern United States)
- black widow spider (Southern and Western United States)
- hobo spider (Pacific Northwestern United States)
- brown widow spider (Southern and Western United States)
- red-legged widow spider (Southern United States)
- wolf spider (all of North America)
- tarantula (Southwestern United States)
- yellow sac spider (all of North America)
The most common potentially harmful spiders outside of the United States include:
- Brazilian wandering spider (South America and Central America)
- funnel web spiders (Australia)
- redback spider (Australia, New Zealand, Belgium, Japan)
The following are some of the treatments you might expect to receive, depending on which spider bit you, the severity of the bite, and the time that has passed between bite and treatment.
- diphenhydramine (Benadryl), an antihistamine to relieve itching or allergic reactions
- colchicine (Colcrys, Mitagare) to reduce swelling and pain has been used and may be recommended
- antivenin, to neutralize venom
- corticosteroids, to reduce inflammation (however, injecting corticosteroids into the spider bite or using a corticosteroid cream is not recommended and may make injuries worse)
- dapsone or other antibiotics to fight bacteria from a recluse spider has been used and may be recommended
- hyperbaric oxygen chamber to speed up wound healing
- nitroglycerin to treat heart symptoms
- NSAIDs, such as ibuprofen (Advil) or aspirin, for inflammation and pain
- topical or narcotic pain relievers to help with pain and muscle spasms.
- calcium supplementation
- antibiotics may be prescribed to treat or prevent secondary bacterial infections
If you are bitten by a spider whose venom you suspect is toxic to people, it’s important that you see a doctor as soon as you can. Although many people get bitten by these spiders without developing severe reactions, if a complication does arise, it can be serious.
Even if you have a milder bite from a nonvenomous spider, it’s important to see a doctor if you experience an allergic reaction, especially if you have trouble breathing or swallowing, or experience heart palpitations.
Also seek medical attention if any of your symptoms seem extreme, if your symptoms are getting worse instead of better, or if the spider bite has become infected.
It may take 30 minutes to 2 hours or longer before you feel any effects from a spider bite, so if you know you’ve been bitten, pay attention to symptoms. Less serious spider bites may have the following signs and symptoms:
- pair of tiny puncture wounds
- nodule, lump, or swelling
- red welts, rash, or redness
- pain, itching, or numbness
More serious spider bites may include any or all of the above symptoms, as well as:
- red or purple ring resembling a target or bull’s eye around the bite
- muscle cramps, headache
- sweating, fever, chills
- difficulty breathing
- nausea, vomiting
- anxiety, restlessness
- swollen lymph nodes
- high blood pressure
- unsteady balance, poor coordination
- visual or hearing disturbances
- muscle spasms
Call 911 if you experience any of these more serious symptoms.
Chances are, you would rather avoid a spider bite altogether than have to treat one. There are definitely some precautions you can take that may help you do just that:
- Maintain a clutter-free environment.
- Avoid stacking wood, and separate it carefully if you do.
- Wear long sleeves, long pants, and covered shoes in areas where spiders can hide.
- Make a habit of wearing shoes or slippers.
- Shake out clothing, blankets, and shoes before you use them.
- Check crevices, boxes, and containers before sticking your hand in them.
- Use tightly sealed plastic bags to store tools and other items.
- Be cautious and aware around stone walls.
- Seal entries in walls and the floor.
- Use insecticides or peppermint oil around nooks and crannies.
- Spray peppermint oil in a carrier oil in shoes, on clothes, and across bedding.
Spiders usually prey on insects, not humans, but they will bite if they feel threatened, even if you don’t realize that you’ve done anything to scare them.
Before you try to treat spider bites yourself, it’s important to know whether you were bitten by a venomous spider, as well as the risks. If the bite is mild, there are many over-the-counter and natural treatments that may be beneficial. If you were bitten by a more dangerous spider, or you’re unsure what bit you, call a doctor to make sure you get care.