Black Widow Spider Bites

Just the thought of spiders is enough to make most of us queasy, but what about getting bit by one?  Is this bite something to be worried about? And if you are bitten, what should you do? Getting bitten by a spider is usually not something to worry about, unless it is a large spider such as a tarantula that may be able to puncture the skins surface, or a spider that produces venom.  Venomous spiders include the brown recluse spider, and the infamous black widow spider which we will describe here. 


A black widow spider can be identified by the hourglass marking on its belly, and owing to the small size of the spider a bite might feel similar to a pinprick.  Because the black widow spider produces a protein venom that affects the nervous system, it is important to pay attention to marks or bites on the body, and follow subsequent symptoms carefully.  Some people are barely affected by this venomous bite, while others might have a severe reaction.   For example, young children or the elderly typically have more serious reactions than healthy adults.

The primary symptom to look out for is pain where you were bitten.  This may remain as a minimal and local reaction, or might get worse and expand dramatically as time goes on.  This means acute pain at the site of the bite can be followed by muscle cramps, abdominal pain, weakness, and tremors. In extreme cases, if there is an allergic reaction or if the immune system is severely compromised, nausea, vomiting, faintness, dizziness, chest pain, and respiratory difficulties can develop.

Signs and symptoms of a black widow spider bite:

·         Slight swelling

·         Faint red marks

·         Intense pain

·         Muscle and joint stiffness

·         Severe abdominal pain and cramping

·         Excessive sweating

·         Fever

If you are bitten by a black widow spider and experience something more than just minor pain, and develop whole-body symptoms like those which have been mentioned, you should seek medical help.  You may need to be given narcotic pain relief medication or antivenin if the reaction is very severe. 

What you need to know:

  • They rarely bite humans: Black widow spiders are not aggressive, and will usually bite unless they are disturbed or threatened.  
  • When they do bite, it is not usually life threatening:  These spiders eat insects, and other arachnids.  This means that the spider’s venom is meant to kill something rather small, not a human.  It is actually pretty rare that a black widow spider bite will kill you according to the NIH (National Institutes of Health).  Fatalities from bites are more common in young children, elderly and extremely ill.

In general, when bit by a spider:

  • Clean the wound:  Use mild soap and water to wash the bite, and apply antibiotic ointment to the site after it is cleaned.
  • Apply a cool compress: Use a cold damp cloth or ice on the site to reduce pain and swelling. You can also try elevating the arm or leg if the bite is there.
  • Use over-the-counter medications: Try a pain reliever, such like Tylenol or Advil, or an antihistamine like Benadryl.