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How to Care for Centipede Bites

Medically Reviewed by Dan Brennan, MD on April 19, 2021

You wake up one morning and see broken skin and maybe some swelling on your arm. What you see could be the result of a centipede bite. These common household pests love arms (and legs), and they are nocturnal.  If you think a centipede snacked on your skin, read on to learn the steps you can take to care for the bite at home.  

What Are Centipedes?

You may think of centipedes as common insects, but they are more closely related to shrimp, crayfish, and lobsters than to many other bugs. Some people call them “hundred leggers,” but the name “centipede” really means “hundred feet.”. 

Centipedes can have anywhere from 30 to 350 “feet.”  They are long and thin and have many body segments. Each body segment has a pair of legs attached to it. 

The length of a centipede’s body can be anywhere from less than one inch to one foot, depending on the species, so they can be hard to spot. And they’re fast.

While you are probably at rest, centipedes are most active. If you find centipedes in your house, there’s a good chance there are other pests around, such as cockroaches, spiders, and ants, that they hunt for and feed on. They like to hide out in warm, damp places.

Symptoms of Centipede Bites

Centipedes do not have teeth, so they really don’t bite you. They have two forelegs that look like claws or pincers that are near their heads. The forelegs are filled with the venom that they use on their prey.

Centipedes will try to run away when you corner them, and some experts say that they don’t typically bite humans. But if you find a trail of pricks on your skin, it’s likely a “ bite” in the form of punctures made by the venomous forelegs as they scratch against your skin. 

Even if the centipede doesn’t sink into your skin, you may still see blistering that is left from the claws scratching you. You may hardly notice it, or you might feel a lot of pain from the scratch, depending on your body’s reaction. Some people think centipede bites are like bee stings. 

Besides swelling, blisters, and pain, some other symptoms of centipede bites to look out for include:

  • Redness around the bite
  • Numbness around the bite, which is rare
  • Lymph node swelling, also rare
  • Itching
  • Headache
  • Anxiety

You may be having an allergic reaction to centipede bites if you notice any of the following:

  • Difficulty breathing
  • Swelling in the throat
  • Rapid heart rate
  • Hives
  • Dizziness

Caring for a Centipede Bite

You can care for a centipede bite at home quite easily. Follow these steps to do so:

  1. Wash the punctures and the surrounding area with soap and water. Since the bite is not really a cut, don’t apply alcohol to the area. 
  2. Wrap an ice pack in a towel or cloth and place it over the bite. Be sure not to put unwrapped ice right on the skin itself. Apply the compress for 10 minutes, and then take it off for 10 minutes. Repeat this process to help ease pain and itching. Note that applying a warm compress could make the bite feel worse instead of better.
  3. Continue checking the area to make sure that there is no damage to the skin.
  4.  If you need it, take an over-the-counter medication such as an antihistamine or aspirin to help with the symptoms.

In most cases, the symptoms of your centipede bite will go away within 48 hours. If you notice that your bite isn’t getting any better, or that you’ve had an allergic reaction, you should seek out medical attention.

When to See a Doctor

If you’re like most people, you’ll be able to care for a centipede bite at home, and you won’t have to get a medical professional involved. But if you have a health condition that calls for you to be cautious, an infected bite, or an allergic reaction, you should continue to closely monitor the bite. You may also want to have small children with centipede bites looked at by a doctor.

And if you have any of these symptoms, you should seek out a doctor’s care immediately:

  • A fever of 100.4℉ or higher.
  • Signs of infection, such as red streaks, warmth to the touch, bleeding, or discharge that smells bad. 
  • Signs of an allergic reaction, such as wheezing, trouble breathing, feeling dizzy or lightheaded, or fainting. 
  • Feeling worse or not seeing a change for the better after 48 hours.
WebMD Medical Reference

Sources

SOURCES:

Fairview: “Centipede Sting.”

Mount Sinai: “Centipede.”

PestWorld.org: “Centipedes.”

Poison Control: “Centipede Stings.”

World Journal of Neurology: “Clinical consequences of centipede bite: Is it neurotoxic?” 

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