Black widows have a reputation for being deadly saboteurs that patrol dark areas. Luckily, getting bit by a black widow is relatively rare and not an instant death sentence. While a black widow bite is nothing to joke around about, remaining calm and treating the wound properly can make the effects much less serious. This article discusses the symptoms and treatment of a black widow bite to help you recover quickly.
What Is a Black Widow Bite?
Found mostly in temperate areas, black widows are small spiders that like to keep to themselves. You can recognize a black widow by their black, shiny exoskeleton and the red, orange, or yellow hourglass shape on their belly. Black widow bites are always defensive and usually occur when an unsuspecting human reaches into their home. To avoid being bitten, always wear gloves when you reach into secluded, dark places, such as wood piles, crevices in your garage, deck, and outdoor grills.
Not all black widow bites are venomous. A black widow only injects venom when it fears for its life and sometimes chooses to bite as a warning. However, when you do notice symptoms of a venomous bite, it’s important to seek treatment immediately. A black widow’s venom attacks the nervous system, and it only takes 20 minutes to an hour for symptoms to occur.
Most healthy adults only get mild symptoms, such as abdominal, stomach, or back pain, elevated heart rate and blood pressure, sweating, swelling, or numbness. Most commonly, the muscle pain involves the chest and abdomen. In severe cases, the victim may experience extreme muscle pain and spasms, vomiting, fainting, dizziness, respiratory difficulties, and heart attack-like chest pain.
Quickcare or ER
Most black widow bites are nonlethal, but sometimes narcotics or antitoxins are needed. You should immediately visit an ER if you notice any of these symptoms develop:
- Swelling around the bite site.
- Muscle pain.
- Elevated heart rate.
- Difficulty breathing.
Diagnosis for Black Widow Bites
What Will Your Doctor Look For?
Your doctor will first look over where the spider bit you. This particular bite usually has two small puncture wounds, surrounded by pale skin, and a red ring. Although this bite is distinctive, the wound may swell quickly, making it more difficult to diagnose. If at all possible, bring the spider with you to the ER.
Your doctor may also take urine and blood tests, skin allergy tests, and an electrocardiogram (EKG).
What Questions Will Your Doctor Ask?
Your doctor will try to establish your medical history first, as well as any previous health issues, such as stroke, diabetes, heart attack, or high blood pressure. He will probably ask you details about the bite, such as when you were bitten, when symptoms started, where you were, and what the spider looked like. He may also ask if you’ve been bitten by another venomous animal previously.
What Is Your Doctor Thinking?
Your doctor is trying to assess what is causing your symptoms and which symptoms he needs to treat immediately. For example, if you have a history of high blood pressure or heart attacks, the elevated heart rate and blood pressure the venom stimulates, may cause additional complications. Your doctor is also trying to figure out what kind of spider bit you. Brown Recluses are also prevalent in the United States. While severe symptoms differ significantly, brown recluse bites can share onset symptoms of 2-8 hours after bite.
Your doctor also needs to determine whether or not he should give you an antivenin. Some people are incompatible with antivenin due to allergies or conflicts with a previously treated bite.
Treatment for Black Widow Bites
You can avoid further damage while you wait for emergency medical treatment. First, wash the bite with soap and water. Apply an antibiotic to the wound site to fight off additional infections. Use ice and avoid rapid movements to slow the venom’s spread. Do not apply a tourniquet. Cutting off blood flow may cause more damage than the bite. Instead, try elevating the area where you were bitten.
After your doctors weigh the risks, they may administer an antivenin. Derived from horses vaccinated against the effects of black widow venom, antivenin is highly effective at counteracting the toxins. However, due to anaphylactic concerns, most doctors prefer to treat patients that are between the ages of 16-60 that show no reactions during the skin test. If your child or infant is the patient, your doctor may still administer antivenin intravenously but at a much lower dosage.
Your doctor will also attempt to treat the symptoms of the venom. You may receive oxygen to alleviate any respiratory problems, or benzodiazepines, morphine, and calcium gluconate to treat the muscle spasms. Another medication given for the muscle spasticity is dantrolene. If you have a history of high blood pressure, strokes, or heart attacks, the doctor may use medication to bring your blood pressure down to a safer level.
How Long Will You Be Affected?
Typically, severe symptoms dissipate in a few days. Mild symptoms, such as nausea, muscle aches, and swelling, may take several days to fully disappear. Sometimes victims of black widow bites will develop additional symptoms within the first 24-48 hours. Serum sickness is also a possible side-effect of a bite, caused by the antivenin. You should visit your doctor if you begin to notice lesions, swollen lymph nodes, or returning muscle cramps. These complications only last between 8-10 days. Symptoms resulting from a black widow bite are best treated as a hospital inpatient.
Black widow bites can be a very serious event, but it is also very treatable. Prevention is key to avoiding a black widow bite. Always use protective gear when venturing into a black widow’s habitat. Treat symptoms immediately and seriously, but remain calm to avoid spreading the venom too quickly. Never try to deal with a black widow bite alone if you begin to see symptoms. Visit the ER immediately. If quickly treated, receiving a black widow bite can easily become a forgettable event.