Scorpion Stings

Overview

What are scorpion stings?

Scorpions are a class of spider-like animal called arachnids. They live in warm and dry climates all over the world. In the United States, they are typically found in southwestern states.

Scorpions have a segmented tail. The tip of the tail holds a stinger and two glands that contain a poisonous substance (venom) that helps scorpions protect themselves. When surprised or threatened, a scorpion may poke the stinger into an animal or person and inject them with venom. People sometimes call this event a scorpion bite, but it is a sting, not a bite.

Most scorpion stings are not dangerous. But 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.

How common are scorpion stings?

Research shows about 1.5 million scorpion stings happen in the world each year.

What are possible complications of a scorpion sting?

Depending on the type of scorpion, the venom can cause pain or affect the nervous system and cause other serious health problems. These issues can include heart, breathing and muscle problems. It is important to get 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.

Symptoms and Causes

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.

What are the symptoms of a scorpion sting?

Most scorpion stings are not harmful and only cause pain around the area that was stung. But more dangerous scorpion stings can be life-threatening. You should see a doctor if you experience more severe symptoms including:

  • Numbness all over body
  • Breathing trouble
  • Difficulty swallowing
  • Thick tongue and excessive salivating
  • Slurred speech
  • Restlessness
  • Seizures
  • Blurry vision
  • Roving eye movements
  • Muscle twitching

Diagnosis and Tests

How are scorpion stings diagnosed?

Doctors often diagnose a scorpion sting with a “tap test.” In this test, the doctor 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 are scorpion stings treated?

Treatment for scorpion stings depends on the type of scorpion involved and the amount of venom injected. Most people do not need to see a doctor for a scorpion sting.

You can manage mild stings at home by:

  • Cleaning the site
  • Applying ice
  • Elevating the area so it’s at the same level as your heart
  • Taking medicines like aspirin or acetaminophen to reduce the pain

A doctor will treat more serious symptoms with medicine called antivenom. These medications can counteract the venom’s effects. It is important to receive antivenom as soon as possible after serious symptoms appear.

What happens after a scorpion sting?

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 doctor will want to watch you carefully for that amount of time to manage your symptoms and make sure new ones do not develop.

Prevention

How can scorpion stings be prevented?

Scorpions are more active at night, but people can get stung 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.

Last reviewed by a Cleveland Clinic medical professional on 06/07/2018.

References

  • U.S. Food & Drug Administration. Accessed 6/8/2018.Antidote Relieves Scorpion Stings. (https://www.fda.gov/ForConsumers/ConsumerUpdates/ucm266515.htm)
  • U.S. National Library of Medicine. Accessed 6/8/2018.Scorpion bite, a sting to the heart! (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4397632/)
  • U.S. National Library of Medicine.Accessed 6/8/2018. Emerging options for the management of scorpion stings. (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3401053/)
  • Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Accessed 6/8/2018.Scorpions. (https://www.cdc.gov/niosh/topics/insects/scorpions.html)

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