The answer to question “how many legs does a spider have?” is eight! However, the answer really doesn’t matter, as the most important question should really be: which leg did the spider bite? Spider bites, although not extremely common in the United States, do happen, and if you know the signs and symptoms, you will be one step ahead in the treatment process.
There are two spiders in the United States that one should be worried about: the Black Widow spider and the Brown Recluse spider. The more “deadly” of the two is the Black Widow spider, which can be identified by its black color and distinct red hourglass-shaped marking it bares on its underside. Unless you notice this spider on your skin, you may not know that you’ve been bitten, as the bite only feels like a pinprick. However, within the next several hours, you will realize that you’ve been bitten by something, as the area will swell and be accompanied by intense pain and redness. If you seek treatment, as most patients do once they notice symptoms, the bite of the Black Widow is rarely lethal.
The Brown Recluse spider also has a distinctive marking on its back that identifies it: a violin shaped marking. This spider is generally less lethal than the Black Widow, but does have severe side effects. The bite initially stings and one may notice mild redness at the site with increasing pain as time passes. Eventually, within eight hours, a fluid-filled blister will develop on the skin and remain for several days. The blister will subside, draining itself of its fluid, revealing a large burrowing ulceration that goes straight through the layers of your skin, down to bone. Aside from the burrowing ulcer the systemic symptoms (symptoms felt in various organs systems) include fever, rash, nausea, vomiting and intense fatigue.
As mentioned, knowing that you’ve been bitten by a spider, and even better, identifying the type of spider that it was, puts you ahead in the treatment process. As soon as you notice the bite, wash the area with soap and cool water. This will wash away any toxin that may be left behind on the skin from the time during which the spider was on your body. Cold compresses should also be applied, as they will help to decrease the inflammation and redness around the area. Of course, Tylenol or anti-histamines (such as Benadryl) can be taken to decrease pain and skin reaction or rash, however, keep track of what you’ve taken, so that if you seek medical attention, you can relay that information to the physician. If you experience swelling or vomiting with an associated fever, seek medical attention immediately. It may be that you require “anti-venom;” a medication that will counteract the bite of the Black Widow spider. If you’ve been bitten by a Brown Recluse spider, local medications, applied to the affected area, are usually sufficient for treatment.
As Podiatrists, Brown Recluse bites are the spider bites that we see most commonly. The reason being, that the side effect of their bite, is the burrowing ulcer. If on the foot or leg, a Podiatrist is fully qualified to treat the area with local wound care, applying wound products and dressings that will encourage the defect to fill in and eventually return your skin to normal over the course of several weeks. As a specialty, we are trained and qualified in wound care, so next time you suspect a spider bite that needs treatment, (although we don’t wish that upon you) seek out your local Podiatrist!