Brown Recluse and Black Widow Spider Bites in Children

What are spider bites in children?

All spiders in the U.S. are poisonous. The fangs of most spiders are too short or too fragile to break through human skin. Or their poison (venom) is too weak to cause damage. Most spider bites cause only minor, local reactions. But some spider bites can be deadly.

What causes spider bites in children?

In the U.S., two spiders can cause serious problems. These are the black widow and the brown recluse (also called the violin spider). 

Brown recluse spider

The brown recluse spider is about 1 inch (2.54 cm) long. It has a violin shaped mark on its head. In the U.S., they are more common in the Midwest and South.

They tend to live in undisturbed areas. These include basements, closets, and attics, or outside under logs or leaf piles. They don’t normally attack, but they will if they’re trapped.

No deaths have been reported in the U.S. from brown recluse bites.

Black widow spider

A black widow spider is a small, shiny, black button-shaped spider. Female black widows have red hourglass marks on their underside or abdomen. Males have marks on their backs. In the U.S., they are most common in the South and West.

Black widow spiders release a toxin. This can harm your child’s central nervous system. If your child gets bit by a black widow, he or she needs medical help right away.  

What are the symptoms of a spider bite in children?

Brown recluse spider

The following are the most common symptoms of brown recluse spider bite:

  • Burning, pain, itching, or redness at the site on your child’s skin where he or she was bitten. This reaction often doesn’t start right away. It may come on several hours or days after the bite.
  • A deep blue or purple area around the bite. It may be surrounded by a whitish ring and large red outer ring that looks like a bullseye.
  • An ulcer or blister that turns black
  • Headache and body aches
  • Rash
  • Fever
  • Nausea or vomiting

The symptoms of a brown recluse spider bite may look like other health problems. Make sure your child sees his or her healthcare provider for a diagnosis.

Black widow spider

The following are the most common symptoms of a black widow spider bite:

  • Immediate pain, burning, swelling, and redness at the site on your child’s skin where he or she was bitten. You may see double fang marks.
  • Cramping pain and muscle tightness in the stomach, chest, shoulders, and back
  • Headache
  • Dizziness
  • Rash and itching
  • Restlessness and anxiety
  • Sweating
  • Swelling and tearing of the eyes
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Increased saliva
  • Weakness, shaking, or not being able to move, especially in the legs

The symptoms of a black widow spider bite may look like other health problems. Make sure your child sees his or her healthcare provider for a diagnosis.

How is a spider bite diagnosed?

Your child's healthcare provider will look at the bite area. He or she will also check your child for other symptoms of a bite. He or she will also ask if your child was recently in an area where spiders are often found.

If you can trap the spider without harming your child further or hurting yourself, try to do so. Put the spider in a glass jar or plastic container. This way, an expert can identify the spider. This will help your child get the right treatment. 

How is a spider bite treated?

If your child is bit by a spider, get medical help right away. You can also do the following right away to treat it:

  • Stay calm. Tell your child that you can help.
  • Wash the area well with soap and water.
  • Put a cold or ice pack wrapped in a cloth, or a cold, wet washcloth on the area of the bite.
  • Apply an antibiotic lotion or cream to the area of the bite. This can reduce your child’s risk for an infection.
  • Give acetaminophen to your child. This can help with pain.
  • Raise the site if the bite happened on an arm or leg. This can help prevent swelling.

Treatment will depend on your child’s symptoms, age, and general health. It will also depend on how severe the condition is.

Brown recluse spider

Depending on the severity of the bite, your child may need surgery. No medicines have been found to help brown recluse bites. Your child may need to stay in the hospital for further treatment.

Black widow spider

Your child may need muscle relaxants, pain relievers, and other medicines. Some children need a special medicine that works against the poison (antivenin). Your child may need to stay in the hospital for further treatment.

How can spider bites in children be prevented?

Children can wear protective clothing when they’re playing where spiders live. These include long-sleeved shirts and pants. If you can, remove tall grass, leaves, and logs from outdoor play areas.

You should also keep your child’s tetanus shots up-to-date. Spider bites can get infected with tetanus.

Key points about spider bites in children

  • Most spider bites cause only minor, local reactions. But some spider bites can be deadly.
  • The two spiders that can cause serious problems are the black widow and the brown recluse.
  • Venom from the brown recluse spider often causes local tissue damage.
  • Black widow spiders  release a toxin. This can harm your child’s central nervous system.
  • If your child is bit by a spider, get medical help right away.

Next steps

Tips to help you get the most from a visit to your child’s healthcare provider:

  • Know the reason for the visit and what you want to happen.
  • Before your visit, write down questions you want answered.
  • At the visit, write down the name of a new diagnosis, and any new medicines, treatments, or tests. Also write down any new instructions your provider gives you for your child.
  • Know why a new medicine or treatment is prescribed and how it will help your child. Also know what the side effects are.
  • Ask if your child’s condition can be treated in other ways.
  • Know why a test or procedure is recommended and what the results could mean.
  • Know what to expect if your child does not take the medicine or have the test or procedure.
  • If your child has a follow-up appointment, write down the date, time, and purpose for that visit.
  • Know how you can contact your child’s provider after office hours. This is important if your child becomes ill and you have questions or need advice.