Though many spider bites aren’t serious, a brown recluse spider bite may cause severe side effects or require immediate medical attention. Properly identifying the bite can lead to better management of symptoms to treat different stages of the bite under the care of your healthcare provider.
The brown recluse spider is an eight-legged arachnid that is tan to dark brown in color, with a violin marking on its back that can range anywhere from 1/4 inch to 1/2 inch long. Younger spiders or those that have just molted won’t have the violin marking.
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Brown recluse spiders can be found in the southeastern and midwestern U.S. The brown recluse spider prefers to live in warm, dry and dark places.
Outdoors, brown recluse spiders can be found near rocks, utility boxes, near woodpiles and under bark.
Indoors, brown recluse spiders could live in any area that has not been disturbed. They can be found in boxes, in unworn clothing and shoes, in corners of a home and in crevices such as in an attic, crawl space, basement or closet.
The brown recluse spider is not aggressive but will bite anyone if it feels threatened. Children, the elderly and those with preexisting medical conditions are most likely to have a severe reaction to the bite.
Almost all spiders have the ability to bite, but the fangs of most spiders are too small to penetrate human skin. Spider bites, including bites by the brown recluse, cause only a few deaths per year in the U.S., usually in children.
Brown recluse bites can cause redness, itchiness, pain and wounds. If the wound is untreated, it could lead to bruising, a blister, an open sore and scarring.
A brown recluse could bite you if you disturb its home. Though the spider will not pursue a person, if you come in close contact with a brown recluse, it may bite to defend itself. Spiders like to hide in dark spots like beds and clothing. Spider bites tend to occur indoors when you unknowingly come into contact with it.
A bite from a brown recluse spider will not be instantly noticed because its bite is painless. Bite reactions vary from mild irritation to a potentially dangerous reaction.
If you experience any severe symptoms, seek medical attention immediately.
It can be difficult to identify a brown recluse bite unless you saw the spider bite you, especially since the brown recluse’s bite cannot be felt until hours after the bite occurred.
If you suspect you have been bitten, call a healthcare professional or visit the emergency room and bring the spider for identification purposes, if possible.
There is no test available to identify a brown recluse spider bite. But your healthcare provider may test for skin infections or other conditions based on the wound or blister as a result of the bite.
Brown recluse spider bites can cause wounds. If the wound is left untreated, the wound could result in an infection or scarring.
The majority of brown recluse bites will heal after three weeks if the bite is not severe. Seeking treatment at the first sign of a brown recluse bite will ease recovery time.
If the area around the bite continues to grow and your pain increases, the wound may be infected, especially if the wound begins to drain a cloudy liquid. Infections could be dangerous and spread further from the wound. In serious cases, an untreated and infected wound could be life-threatening.
Awareness and understanding where brown recluse spiders live are the first steps in reducing your risk of a bite. However, brown recluse spiders frequently go unnoticed due to their habitat and sneaky nature.
There are steps you can take to prevent bites from a brown recluse spider. These include:
If you are bitten, you can expect the following:
There may be delayed pain after the bite occurs.
With proper care, most people will recover from a brown recluse spider bite.
Call your doctor or visit the emergency room immediately if you experience any of the following:
A note from Cleveland Clinic
Unfortunately, a bite from a brown recluse spider will not turn you into a comic book superhero. Discomfort from a bite is temporary and can be alleviated with quick treatment and proper wound care hygiene. If you live in an area with brown recluse spiders, take precautions in garages, basements and closets, and reach out to a pest control specialist if you feel that there is an infestation.
Last reviewed by a Cleveland Clinic medical professional on 05/06/2022.
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