A brown recluse spider's bite can be serious. The venom contains a protein-eating enzyme that destroys skin tissue. In rare cases, a bite can be fatal. The severity of the symptoms depends on how much venom the spider injects and the victim's sensitivity to the poison. There is no anti-venom for a brown recluse bite, but you can help minimize the bite's effects and complications if you seek treatment promptly.
A brown recluse spider's bite might feel like a pinprick at first, or you may not even notice it. After two to eight hours, symptoms start to appear. You might experience muscle pain or cramping, chills, fever, nausea, itching or sweating. The skin seems to harden and a red or purple circle will appear around the bite. Eventually, the bite can become inflamed or infected. Necrosis, or tissue death, is also possible, because the spider venom contains proteolytic enzymes that consume cells. Rarely, a bite can cause jaundice, kidney failure, seizures, coma or even death.
Wash the bite with soap and water. To reduce swelling, apply a cold compress or ice pack to the site and keep the area elevated. You can also take over-the-counter pain relievers.
You should never attempt to extract the venom by cutting the skin, squeezing the bite or using suction devices. Avoid heat or steroid creams such as hydrocortisone.
Go to the emergency room. You will be asked the following: your age, weight, any medical conditions you have, any medications you take, where the bite occurred and the time it happened. If possible, put the spider in a secure container so that medical personnel can confirm that it is a brown recluse.
The doctor may give you pain medication to relieve pain and antihistamines for inflammation. If the bite looks infected, she may prescribe antibiotics. Bites that occur near the knee, elbow or other joint may need to be elevated with a brace.
You should also make sure your tetanus shot is up to date, since spider bites can contain tetanus spores, according to the CDC. If not, the doctor can give you a tetanus shot.
Brown recluse bites that destroy tissue can leave behind craters and large, unsightly scars. In severe cases, bite victims might need plastic surgery or skin grafts to repair damage. It takes up to six weeks for a lesion or ulcer to heal.
Brown recluse spider facts
Brown recluse spiders are usually found in the midwestern and southern United States. They are also called violin spiders and fiddlers because of the violin-shaped marking on their backs. They have six eyes--two fewer than most spiders.
You are mostly likely to encounter a brown recluse outdoors because they prefer dry, sheltered areas such as wood, rock or brush piles. If one does come indoors, it will seek refuge in a closet, corner or any dark spot, including inside a shoe or a piece of clothing. These spiders are not aggressive. They will bite if they are disturbed--for example, if you place your foot in a shoe where a brown recluse is hiding.