I am a consulting doctor and a health writer who has been writing online for 8 years.
Brown Recluse Spiders
It may surprise you to learn that most spiders found in the United States are not capable of puncturing human skin. Two exceptions to this are the black widow and the brown recluse.
How to Identify a Brown Recluse Spider
- Appearance: Distinct, violin-shaped mark in the center of their backs (they are sometimes called violin spiders.)
- Size: Relatively small in size. Male adults can grow up to one inch.
- Where in the U.S.: Established in 16 southeastern and Midwestern U.S. states: Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, Nebraska, Ohio, Oklahoma, Tennessee, and Texas. (Isolated cases have been documented in several other states, as well, but these are most likely a result of being accidentally transported across state lines.)
- Where in your home: Typically live in warm, dry locations with minimal activity, such as basements, attics, below sinks, or beneath woodpiles and gardening supplies.
Brown Recluse Spider Bites
The bite of this spider can lead to health complications. However, it's important to note that brown recluse bites are rare. Most reported cases actually turn out to be skin infections or bites from another insect.
Among documented bites from this spider, more than 90 percent of cases do not involve serious complications. For the remaining 10 percent, medical attention may be required.
Bites from these spiders are usually found on the hands, arms, or legs. The bites typically occur when the spider accidentally bumps into a person and bites to protect itself.
Dr. Amy Thompson on Brown Recluse Bites
Signs of a Brown Recluse Bite
A bite from this spider may not be noticed immediately because the bite itself is usually painless. However, the bite can cause serious symptoms including:
- Pain, ache, or burning sensation at the site of the bite
- Redness, swelling, bruising, itching, or blistering at the site
- Pain in the abdomen, chest, back, or legs
More Severe Symptoms That Can Sometimes Occur
- Necrosis (death of skin tissue) around the site
Stages of a Recluse Spider Bite
Brown recluse spider bites typically go through three stages:
- First 24 hours: The bite will initially cause a stinging sensation. This is caused by the discharge of spider venom into the blood. The stinging may disappear after a few seconds or it may last for many hours. The sensation may be accompanied by redness, inflammation, and sensitivity at the site. It may also cause a thickening and puffiness of the affected skin. The area around the bite may have a red bullseye appearance or it may have a blueish, bruised appearance.
- Days 3-5: Depending on the amount of venom injected by the spider, the pain will either diminish or continue for several days. In the latter case, a blister or ulcer (open sore) may form at the site.
- Days 7-14: In severe cases, the skin tissue around the blister or ulcer can begin to die (necrosis), leading to the formation of a thick, black scab. This can take several months to heal.
Treatments and When to Consult a Doctor
Follow these self-care guidelines to alleviate symptoms:
- Thoroughly wash the area with cool water and antiseptic soap.
- If possible, elevate the affected area over the level of the heart.
- Do not engage in any physical activity as it can spread the spider’s toxins through the body.
- Wrap an ice pack with a towel and apply to the bite to relieve swelling and pain.
- For pain management, take over-the-counter pain medication (but do not take aspirin, as it thins the blood).
- Apply over-the-counter antibiotic cream.
- Watch for more serious symptoms. If necessary, consult a doctor. If possible, bring the culprit spider to the doctor for identification and investigation.
Avoid the following:
- Heat or warm compresses
- Cutting the affected tissue or using any type of suction device to remove spider poison
- Hydrocortisone or other steroid creams
- Electricity to the affected site (this can result in secondary burns and aggravate the destruction of tissue)
Hospitalization is rarely required. It is however important for patients to go for regular checkups until the wound has completely healed.
Sources and Further Reading
- Brown Recluse Bite: Symptoms, Treatment & Stages - Cleveland Clinic
A bite from a brown recluse spider can cause itching, pain and wounds. Proper identification of the spider can lead to better management of symptoms.
- Brown Recluse Spider Bites - National Capital Poison Control
Of the many thousands of spiders we come across, the brown recluse spider is one of the few that not only can bite humans, but whose venom can cause serious wounds and poisoning.
- Picture of Brown Recluse Spider Bites.- WebMD
Brown recluse spider bites often go unnoticed initially because they are usually painless bites. Occasionally, some minor burning that feels like a bee is noticed at the time of the bite.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and does not substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, and/or dietary advice from a licensed health professional. Drugs, supplements, and natural remedies may have dangerous side effects. If pregnant or nursing, consult with a qualified provider on an individual basis. Seek immediate help if you are experiencing a medical emergency.
Karen Garner on May 08, 2020:
I was bitten 25 years ago by brown recluse spider. Took a long time for the bite area to heal going through several stages. Fast forward 25 years, the scaring flared up again with less intensity than the first time. Once again my skin died in the area but healed once again. Has anyone else ever had that experience???
Kelly Ann Christensen from Overland Park, Johnson County, Kansas on December 29, 2019:
Your articles sure are disgusting, but I'm enjoying them! lol We have brown recluse spiders here in the Midwest, too. One online article instructs people to use mint to repell spiders, but there was mint planted along one side of the house where my apartment was downstairs in Mission, that these or similar spiders absolutely LOVED. They loved it while it was growing, and look out after it dried because it was a spider metropolis. When I first moved in I was literally killing 10-12 spiders a day! Thank goodness I got it under control.
In any case, I appreciate the detailed medical advice regarding what to do in the unfortunate circumstance that someone is bitten by one of these.
Jamie from Omaha, NE on September 01, 2017:
shaped like a penny, blistery and infection has set in. Its eating my skin and the itch is a torture... day after my whole left side of face was blown up... I need some advice please. I think this is a brown recluse... very hard around the bite
Sue wing on July 05, 2017:
My husband got a bite I used wound care xero petroleum guaze everyday ! It's closed the wound and staph plus on 2 antiobotics ! 2 times a day clean the affected area with soap and water then use sterile water rinse the area and apply the xero petroleum guaze ! It took 8 weeks to close but worked !
sandy on April 22, 2017:
I think I was bit by a spider today it had a puncture mark and was swollen and about 8 hrs later there was a blister that I punctured to get the poison out so now it looks like two bites. Im nervous should I go to the doctor
Jorge badillo on August 04, 2016:
Please Tell me what this is
Sherry on June 04, 2016:
It's the 7th day today, is it ok to apply granules?
drpaul007 on July 23, 2015:
I agree with venom er, along with the proven fact that one can render the venom as non-invasive by the use of electrical stimuli. Do your own research rather then repeat what others have stated as incorrect.
Venom ER on July 17, 2015:
Please remove these photos. Most are not related to brown recluse bites in the least. For example the Lyme Disease erythema migrans "bulls-eye" followed by a photo of an infected black widow bite. Next time, please do some research before posting "credible" information, okay?
emily on June 26, 2015:
Now I know how bad the biteis and how to treate it
Chicken man on May 23, 2015:
y am i reading dis
guy on May 20, 2015:
One of those is not a spider bite.
jack on April 29, 2015: