The pain you feel after a scorpion sting is instantaneous and extreme. Any swelling and redness will usually appear within five minutes. More severe symptoms, if they’re going to occur, will come on within the hour.
It’s possible to die from a scorpion sting, though unlikely. There are an estimated 1,500 species of scorpion in the world, and only 30 of these produce venom toxic enough to be fatal. In the United States, there is only one species of venomous scorpion, the bark scorpion.
Scorpions are predatory creatures that belong to the arachnid family. They have eight legs and can be recognized by their pair of grasping pedipalps, which resemble pinchers, and their narrow, segmented tail. This tail is often carried in a forward curve over a scorpion’s back and ends with a stinger.
Most scorpion stings don’t require treatment, though it can be a good idea to see your doctor as a precaution. If symptoms are severe, you may need to receive hospital care. You may need to take sedatives if you’re experiencing muscle spasms and intravenous (IV) medication to treat high blood pressure, pain, and agitation.
Scorpion antivenom is sometimes used with caution because of concerns over its side effects and cost (although with the development of Anascorp antivenom, adverse affects have been reduced).
Antivenom is most effective if given before symptoms develop, so children who are seen in remote rural emergency rooms in areas with scorpions, where access to medical care is limited, are often treated with antivenom as a preventive measure. Your doctor may also recommend antivenom if your symptoms are extremely severe.
Your treatment will depend on whether your doctor decides that your symptoms are due to an allergic reaction, rather than the effects of the venom itself, and how severe these symptoms are.
The majority of scorpion stings only cause localized symptoms, such as warmth and pain at the site of the sting. Symptoms can be extremely intense, even if swelling or redness isn’t visible.
Symptoms at the site of the sting can include:
- intense pain
- tingling and numbness around the sting
- swelling around the sting
Symptoms related to widespread effects of venom can include:
- breathing difficulties
- muscle thrashing or twitching
- unusual movements of the neck, head, and eyes
- dribbling or drooling
- high blood pressure
- accelerated heart rate or irregular heartbeat
- restlessness, excitability, or inconsolable crying
It’s also possible for people who’ve been stung previously by scorpions to have an allergic reaction to a subsequent sting. It’s occasionally severe enough to cause a life-threatening condition called anaphylaxis. Symptoms in these cases are similar to those of anaphylaxis caused by bee stings and can include trouble breathing, hives, nausea, and vomiting.
Older adults and children are the most likely to die from an untreated venomous scorpion bite. Death is typically caused by heart or respiratory failure some hours after they have been stung. There have been very few deaths from scorpion stings reported in the United States.
Another possible complication of a scorpion sting, although it is very rare, is anaphylaxis.
Scorpion stings are more dangerous in parts of the world where access to medical care is restricted. Death from scorpion stings is a public health problem in some parts of South America, Mexico, the Middle East, North Africa, and India.
Scorpions often hide in firewood, clothes, bed linen, shoes, and garbage pails, so care should be taken when handling these things. They’re more likely to be seen during the warmer seasons and when hiking or camping.
Scorpion stings usually occur on the hands, arms, feet, and legs.
The majority of scorpion stings, while extremely painful, are nonvenomous and therefore harmless. If you’ve received a sting from a venomous scorpion and you live in an area that has access to good medical care, you’ll usually recover quickly and without complications.
Older adults and children have an increased risk of adverse reactions to scorpion stings. People in certain areas of the world where access to medical care is restricted are also at greater risk.
In extremely rare cases, and usually in people who’ve experienced a previous scorpion sting, subsequent stings can lead to anaphylaxis. Even in these cases, in areas with good medical care, if the anaphylaxis is treated promptly, you can expect to make a full recovery.