What are scorpion stings?
Scorpions are a type of eight-legged animal called an arachnid. They live in warm, dry climates all over the world. In the United States, they live mostly in the South and Southwest.
Scorpions have a front pair of claws and a flexible tail. The tip of the tail holds the scorpion’s stinger and two glands that contain a poisonous substance (venom) that helps scorpions protect themselves. When surprised or threatened, a scorpion may use its stinger to inject you with its venom. People sometimes call this event a scorpion bite, but it’s a sting, not a bite.
Most scorpion stings aren’t dangerous. In most cases, the sting causes pain but is pretty harmless. Less than 5% of stings require medical attention. Some scorpion stings can be life-threatening. There are about 1,500 species of scorpions in the world, but only about 30 have stings that are dangerous to people. Most of the scorpions found in the United States aren’t dangerous.
How common are scorpion stings?
Research shows about 1.5 million scorpion stings happen in the world each year.
Symptoms and Causes
What does a scorpion sting look like?
A scorpion sting may make your skin look red and slightly swollen. Most stings aren’t harmful and only cause pain around the stung area. You may feel a mild tingling or burning sensation.
More dangerous scorpion stings can be life-threatening. The most dangerous species in the U.S. is the bark scorpion, which lives primarily in Arizona. It also lives in some parts of California, Nevada, New Mexico, Texas and Utah. The bark scorpion can cause more severe symptoms. Go to the emergency room if you or someone else experiences any of the following scorpion sting symptoms:
- Numbness all over your body.
- Difficulty breathing.
- Difficulty swallowing.
- Thick tongue, excessive salivating and drooling.
- Slurred speech.
- Roving eye movements.
- Muscle twitching (myoclonus).
- Irregular heartbeat (arrhythmia).
- High blood pressure (hypertension).
- Abdominal pain.
What causes scorpion stings?
Scorpions typically live in populated areas. They often make their homes in the crevices of people’s houses. They also live in other small spaces such as under rocks and in firewood. If you encounter a scorpion unexpectedly, it may inject venom into your body to defend itself.
Diagnosis and Tests
How are scorpion stings diagnosed?
Your healthcare provider may diagnose a scorpion sting with a “tap test.” In this test, your provider will tap the place where you were stung to see if the pain gets worse. This reaction is an indicator of a scorpion sting.
Management and Treatment
How do you treat a scorpion sting?
Treatment for scorpion stings depends on the type of scorpion involved and the amount of venom injected. Most people don’t need to see a healthcare provider for a scorpion sting. However, you can call the poison control center for guidance. What you can do for scorpion sting treatment at home includes:
- Clean the site of the sting with soap and water.
- Apply ice or a cold compress to the area.
- Elevate the area so it’s at the same level as your heart.
- Use an antihistamine or corticosteroid on the affected area.
- Take an over-the-counter pain reliever such as acetaminophen to reduce the pain.
If you’re not sure what kind of scorpion stung you or you develop symptoms of an allergic reaction, seek immediate medical attention. These symptoms may include difficulty breathing, extreme swelling, vomiting and shock. Use an epinephrine auto-injector (EpiPen®) if necessary, and call 911 or go to your nearest emergency room.
Your healthcare provider may treat more serious symptoms, such as those caused by a bark scorpion sting, with an antivenom medication. Antivenom can neutralize the effects of a scorpion sting’s venom. It’s important to receive antivenom as soon as possible after serious symptoms appear.
What are the possible complications of a scorpion sting?
Depending on the type of scorpion, the venom can cause pain or, much more rarely, affect your nervous system and cause other serious health problems. These issues can include heart, breathing, and muscle problems. It’s important to get immediate medical help if you have severe symptoms after a scorpion sting.
Scorpion stings are usually more dangerous to children than adults. The venom can have a stronger effect in a child’s smaller body.
How can I reduce my risk of a scorpion sting?
Scorpions are more active at night, but people can get stung at any time. You can lessen your risk by wearing long sleeves, pants and gloves when you’re outside in areas where scorpions live. In these areas, it’s also a good idea to shake out your shoes and clothing before putting them on. In addition:
- Wear protective footwear when you’re in an area where scorpions live.
- Use caution when moving logs, lifting rocks or collecting firewood.
- Don’t handle scorpions with your bare hands.
- While camping, avoid sleeping directly on the ground.
- Carry an epinephrine auto-injector (EpiPen®) if you know you have an allergy.
Outlook / Prognosis
Can you die from a scorpion sting?
Scorpion stings can be fatal, especially in people ages 6 and younger. But most types of scorpions in North America aren’t venomous. Death from a scorpion is extremely rare. There hasn’t been a reported death from a scorpion sting in the United States in more than 50 years.
How long do scorpion sting symptoms last?
Most scorpion sting symptoms go away without treatment within 48 hours. The symptoms of more severe scorpion stings can continue to develop for 24 hours. Your healthcare provider will want to watch you carefully for that amount of time to manage your symptoms and make sure new ones don’t develop.
A note from Cleveland Clinic
Most scorpion stings in the United States are painful but harmless. If you get stung, wash the affected area and place ice on it to reduce the pain and swelling. If you’re not familiar with scorpions, call your local poison control center to go over your symptoms. If you develop symptoms of an allergic reaction, call 911 or go to your nearest emergency room for treatment. Though extremely rare, the bark scorpion sting can be fatal if left untreated.
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