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Brown Recluse Spider Bites: What You Should Know
Learn about the symptoms of a brown recluse spider bite and how to prevent getting bitten.

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What Is a Brown Recluse Spider?

Brown recluse spiders prefer warm climates and are usually found in the central and southern United States. They often live in dark sheltered areas, such as piles of wood, leaves, or rocks. They may also live inside people’s homes or under their porches. Sometimes a brown recluse will even hide in shoes or under clothes that have been lying on the floor for a long time. Fortunately, they rarely bite people.

Brown recluse spiders have a dark, violin-shaped patch just behind their heads. This mark can be hard to see, so it’s easy to mistake a different kind of brown spider for a brown recluse. Still, you should immediately call your doctor or go to the emergency room if you believe a brown recluse spider has bitten you. Prompt treatment is especially important for children, who often experience more severe symptoms.

What Causes a Brown Recluse Spider to Bite?

Brown recluse spiders don’t generally bite people. They’re not aggressive spiders and will typically only bite if they feel trapped or threatened. They usually hide during the day and come out at night to hunt for insects.

How Can I Avoid Being Bitten?

It’s almost impossible to entirely get rid of spiders from a home or building once they’re there. Sticky traps and repellents can help reduce the number of spiders. You can take other precautions to lower your chances of being bitten:

  • Clean up clutter in your yard and basement, and avoid stacking wood against the house. This can help remove the types of places where brown recluse spiders like to live.
  • Avoid leaving clothing on the ground. If you do, be sure to shake it out before putting it on.
  • Wear gloves when moving wood and rocks, especially if you live in an area where brown recluse spiders are common.
  • Be careful when taking things out of storage, as brown recluse spiders often live in cardboard boxes.
  • Be careful when putting on clothes that have been lying on the ground for an extended period of time. Shake them out before putting them on.
  • Check shoes before wearing them.

What Are the Symptoms of a Brown Recluse Spider Bite?

You usually don’t feel a brown recluse spider’s bite. In fact, you might not even realize that you’ve been bitten if you don’t actually see the spider biting you.

The bite may sting at first, but symptoms usually don’t develop for several hours. You may feel pain, burning, or itching around the site of the bite. The area may also become red.

Brown recluse spider bites are characterized by a unique pattern of discoloration that often develops around the bite. The site of the bite may turn a deep purple or blue color and be surrounded by a whitish ring and a larger red area. There may also be a dark blister or ulcer by the bite. In some cases, the ulcer caused by the bite can persist and grow for weeks.

Additional symptoms you may develop include:

  • fever
  • nausea
  • intense itching at site of the bite
  • rash
  • chills
  • general discomfort
  • sweating

As scary as a brown recluse bite may sound, it usually isn’t dangerous. Most bites will heal on their own without scarring. You should, nevertheless, always get medical attention if you think a brown recluse has bitten you. A brown recluse spider bite can cause infections and serious conditions, such as kidney failure or seizures. In rare cases, a bite can lead to a coma or even death. This is more likely to happen in children and older adults.

What Should I Do If I Believe I’ve Been Bitten?

Go to the emergency room, or call your doctor immediately if you think a brown recluse has bitten you. If possible, catch the spider in a jar and take it with you. This can help your doctor identify the spider and confirm the diagnosis.

Before you get to the doctor’s office or emergency room, there are steps you can take to slow or prevent the spread of venom:

  • Wash the bite wound with soap and water as soon as possible.
  • Elevate the area where the bite is and tightly tie a bandage around it.
  • On your way to the hospital or doctor’s office, apply an ice pack to the bite – 10 minutes on, then 10 minutes off.

How Is a Brown Recluse Spider Bite Treated?

There is no effective antivenom (medicine that counteracts the venom) for brown recluse spiders. But a number of other medications can treat the symptoms of the bite. These include:

  • pain relievers
  • muscle relaxers
  • NSAIDs (such as ibuprofen)
  • corticosteroids (drugs that relieve inflammation)

You may also receive antibiotics if the wound from the bite becomes infected.

If the bite is located near a joint, such as your elbow or knee, your doctor might put the affected limb into a sling or a brace.


With proper medical attention, full recovery is likely. Keep in mind that it may take weeks for the bite wound and any ulcers or blisters to heal entirely.

Written by: Gretchen Holm and Lauren Reed-Guy
Edited by:
Medically Reviewed by:
Published: Jul 18, 2012
Published By: Healthline Networks, Inc.
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