Black Widow Spider Bite
When to Seek Medical Care
In general, treatment for serious reactions to a black widow spider's bite will be beyond the scope of most medical offices and urgent care centers. Pain relief may require the use of narcotics and antivenin (antitoxin to counteract the effects of the spider venom).
The decision to seek emergency care is usually easy and should be made early. If the person who was bitten by a black widow spider has more than minor pain or has whole-body symptoms, seek care at a hospital's Emergency Department. If symptoms are severe, call 911 for emergency medical transport so that evaluation and treatment can start en route to the hospital.
Black Widow Spider Bite Treatment
Self-Care at Home
The options for home care are somewhat limited. Wash the area with soap and water. Both cold and warm compresses have been recommended, as have hot baths. Certainly, a hot bath would seem to be of value because the pain is due primarily to muscle spasm. Over-the-counter pain relievers such as acetaminophen and ibuprofen may be of value in mild cases. Folk remedies have not proven to work.
In general, extensive medical evaluation is not necessary. The exceptions are when the history of a black widow bite is not clear, if the bite was not witnessed, and when associated symptoms require the exclusion of more serious disorders, such as heart attack.
In general, the person bitten by a black widow spider, who has pain severe enough to seek treatment at an Emergency Department, will require narcotic pain relief. Muscle relaxants given by injection may also be of value. A tetanus shot may also be given.
Use of antivenin
The antivenin available for treatment of black widow spider bites is derived from horse serum. The venom produced by various species of spiders is similar, so the antivenin prepared against one venom is effective against the others. Antivenin is produced by gradually increasing injections of the specific venom in a horse. The horse naturally produces the antivenin used in humans.
Symptoms are often not easily relieved, even with narcotics. Some experts recommend that antivenin be used in any severe bite because 1 vial of the antitoxin produces significant and rapid relief of symptoms. It can even be used if there is delay in reaching the hospital. Yet other sources recommend that antivenin be used only in children, the elderly, and those with severe underlying medical conditions.