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Spider Bites from Black Widow Spiders

Updated on September 15, 2011

my exerience with spider bites from black widows

Like many kids growing up in the southeastern United States, I was always taught to fear black widow spiders. I fully believed that spider bites from these arachnids were always deadly. I suppose our parents instilled this fear in us so that we’d avoid black widows at all costs, which wasn’t really such a bad strategy. Unlike most kids of today, we played outdoors almost all the time. In my neighborhood, we kids spent hours just about every day in the woods, coming in contact with all sorts of critters. As an adult, I experienced several spider bites at the same time, all from black widow spiders.

Black widow spider picture by Laura Henderson Design:
Black widow spider picture by Laura Henderson Design:

My experience with spider bites

The event happened when I was in my twenties. I lived in a rural area of Southeast Georgia, out in the middle of nowhere, and was residing in an old farmhouse. Like many similar houses from the same era, this one was open underneath. The house hadn’t been lived in for a while when we moved in, so it needed some repairs and some cosmetic work. After remodeling the inside, we began working on the yard.

I was really into flowers and ornamental plants at the time, so I set about “taming” the yard and making flower beds around the house. I was planting flowers, and there was a large cinderblock in my would-be flower bed. I turned it over and pushed it out of the way. As I steadied myself with my left hand and dug in the soil with a garden spade in my right hand, I suddenly felt as if my left hand was being stuck with pins. I looked, and to my horror, my hand was covered with black widow spiders. Some were very small, but a couple were larger than the others.

My husband was at work at the time, about twenty miles away. I ran in the house and got my small daughter, and we drove the 100 yards or so to the home of my brother-in-law and sister-in-law. After telling them what happened, they phoned our doctor. He said I probably didn’t need medical attention, but he told them warning signs to look for. I was experiencing a significant amount of pain, especially with one of the bite sites. They gave me a pain pill, and I fell asleep almost immediately.

I woke up to find an ice pack on my hand. As I remembered the spider bites, I wasn’t completely sure that I was still alive.

Black Widow Spider Bites

Spider bites from black widows aren’t nearly as lethal as I had always been taught to believe. Also, all the bites are not equal. Spider bites from male black widows, for example, aren’t dangerous to humans. Spider bites from the females, however, often are. Much depends on where you were bitten, and on how your body chemistry reacts to the spider bite. Some people are much more sensitive than others. Also, spider bites don’t always contain venom. “Dry” spider bites occur when a spider sinks its fangs in but doesn’t inject any venom.

After learning more about black widow spider bites, I think the smaller spiders I saw that day must have been males. I also think that all but one of the spider bites were dry bites, as one bite site was much more painful than the others.

Spider Bite Symptoms

Some people who are bitten by black widow spiders don’t even feel the initial bite, while others do. Black widow spiders, especially the females, are capable of injecting a neurotoxin, affecting the nervous system of humans. Some people have little reaction to these spider bites, while others might have severe symptoms.

Typical symptoms might include sweating, weakness, headache, chest pain, dizziness, and nausea. Muscles in the back and shoulder might cramp. Some victims might also experience breathing difficulties. The injection site might become swollen, too.

What do black widow spider bites look like?

Like other spiders, black widows have two fangs that they use for biting. Spider bites from black widows appear as two small punctures. The bite site might become red and swollen, and it could be very painful.

Treatment of spider bites from black widows

Many people who are bitten by black widow spiders never seek medical care. For healthy adults, these spider bites are rarely deadly. In fact, in the decade of the 1950s, only 63 people died as a result of spider bites from black widows in the U.S.

Spider bite victims with severe reactions might require antivenin. Unfortunately, not all hospitals have the antivenin available. Even when the antivenin is available, it’s rarely used. The main reason for this is that the antivenin itself is sometimes more dangerous than the spider bites. Black widow antivenin is derived from horse serum and can cause anaphylactic shock, which can result in death.

Home treatment for black widow bites

If you experience spider bites, try to capture the spider responsible. If it was a black widow spider that bit you, try to remain calm. An ice pack helped with my spider bites, but some people find more relief from warm compresses. Take an over-the-counter pain reliever and lie down.

If your pain is severe, or if you experience severe symptoms like the ones mentioned above, call your physician or visit the closest emergency room. Even if they don’t have black widow antivenin, they can at least help manage your pain and some of the side effects from the spider bites.


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