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Ask the Doc:
How can I tell if my child was bitten by a poisonous spider?

The board certified pediatricians at After Hours Pediatrics Urgent Care ( want to answer your questions regarding urgent care. To submit a question to be answered in the next issue of Families on-the-go, please email your question to

How can I tell if my child was bitten by a poisonous spider?
All spiders have some type of venom they use to kill their prey. However, if humans are bitten, it only causes local irritation, itching and pain. Occasionally a spider bite can cause some blistering and breakdown of the skin.
Two types of spiders are considered poisonous because their bites do sometimes cause more severe reactions: the brown recluse and the black widow families of spiders. Though there have been no verified deaths in the U.S. due to brown recluse and none in over ten years from the black widow species of spiders, just the mention of them causes considerable anxiety in many people.
Unless you actually see your child bitten by a spider, most likely the bite is from an insect. If you do see a spider and you think it may be a black widow or brown recluse type spider, it is extremely important to capture the actual spider (if at all possible) for correct identification even if you stepped on it! Many bites are incorrectly attributed to these spiders.
It should be comforting to parents to know it would be extremely unusual for a child to be bitten by a brown recluse because it is not native to Florida, rather it is imported when people move here from areas where the brown recluse lives. It has only been documented sporadically in single buildings in about ten Florida counties (not including Hillsborough, Pinellas or Pasco). Most of the reports of brown recluse bites in Florida have not been accurate.
The symptoms of a brown recluse bite begin in about two to eight hours and include blistering of the skin and intense pain. If only a small amount of venom is injected, there may be no further injury. In fact, 90% of brown recluse spider bites heal without any treatment. In cases of a severe bite, the tissue about the bite dies and forms a scar. Medical care is needed in these cases for good wound care and prevention of infection.
There are occasional reports of bites from the black widow or one of its sister species. These spiders are usually associated with woodpiles and areas that have been left undisturbed for periods of time, such as sheds. Bites usually occur when someone reaches under an object, such as a piece of wood, and disturb the spider. Although not usually aggressive, these spiders then attack as they feel threatened.
In a significant black widow bite, symptoms of severe muscle pain begin in about two hours. If symptoms of weakness, sweating, headache, vomiting or difficulty breathing occur, seek immediate medical attention. However, these reactions are quite rare.
So, in general, treat a potential spider bite as you would any insect bite: clean the area well and give diphenhydramine (aka Benadryl) for itching. In the extremely rare event of a true poisonous spider bite that causes severe pain, discoloration of the skin or weakness, call your doctor right away.

Dr. Welborn is a board certified pediatrician and Medical Director at After Hours Pediatrics Urgent Care (


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