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Health Team

If you don't remember pain, it's probably not a spider bite, doctor says

Posted May 23

There have been plenty of movies made about spiders, but many people have phobias about them.

In real life, spiders hang out in homes—in corners, underneath furniture. They're also in basements, garages, crawlspaces, garden sheds and woodpiles.

Most spiders are relatively harmless, even if they bite you, but some spider bites cause more severe symptoms and could lead to an emergency room visit.

"We do see a lot of people who suspect they could have been bitten by a spider," said WakeMed emergency physician Dr. Benjamin German. "In many cases, if somebody doesn't see a spider, and they have a skin lesion, whether it's a swollen area or something that's draining fluid, it turns out not be a spider bite."

German says black widow and brown recluse spider bites present the biggest risk in this part of the state. Symptoms from a black widow bite may include pain, cramping, sweating, nausea and sometimes difficult breathing.

A brown recluse bite can lead to a skin lesion that heals in a week or sometimes longer. The bite could also come with a fever, chills and body aches.

If you don't remember pain, it's probably not a spider bite, doctor says

German said don't ignore those kind of symptoms.

"If any of those things are going on, it's best to come to the ER, so we can check things out, especially for smaller children (and) adults who have any kind of health problems, you know, heart disease, lung disease," German said. "Those people are best seen in the ED."

If you're not sure if the bite was from a spider, seek prompt medical attention. Doctors are familiar with the signs and symptoms of spider bites, but a specific diagnosis may be difficult.

For proper diagnosis, doctors would need an eyewitness to the bite, an expert identification of the spider. Then they will try to rule out other possible causes of the lesion, such as contact with poison ivy or a staph infection.

Black widow spiders are easy to identify. They are shiny black and have a red hourglass shape on the underside of their abdomen.

A brown recluse spider vary in color from tan to dark brown. They have a dark violin shape on top of the part of their body where the legs are attached.

Don't try to capture the spider with your hand. Instead, take a picture of it with your phone if you can.

German says chances are if you don't remember pain when you were bitten, it probably wasn't a spider.

He added: If it's just mild local redness, and you're not having systemic issues, such as chest pain, shortness of breath or hives that are distant from where you were bitten, then just watch things closely.

Clean the irritated area on the skin. Topical steroidal creams and oral Benadryl could help.

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