What To Know About Scorpion Stings

What to Do if You're Stung by a Scorpion

Melissa Ling / TripSavvy

Many species of scorpions, including the Arizona bark scorpion, roam the desert landscape of the American Southwest and tend to hang out under logs, rocks, boards, and in burrows or piles of items left outside. Scorpions don't bite (they have no teeth), but when startled, they may use the stinger on their tail to sting you. Treating a scorpion sting usually has a favorable outcome. Still, the Arizona bark scorpion is the only one of 80 species found in the United States that can produce a lethal poison. This sting, however, can be treated at a medical facility with an antivenin. In most cases, stings from nonlethal scorpions can be dealt with at home, but always seek medical attention for a child or elder who has been bitten by this creature.

Scorpion Sting Symptoms

According to the Mayo Clinic, the immediate symptoms of a scorpion sting can include intense pain, numbness or tingling, slight swelling, and warmth at the sting site. The area may become sensitive to touch, as well. Severe symptoms, which could indicate systemic venom spread, include difficulty breathing, muscle twitching, drooling, sweating, nausea and vomiting, high blood pressure, a fast or irregular heartbeat, and restlessness. Children may become inconsolable and those who have been stung before could develop an allergic reaction. If the person stung presents with hives, trouble breathing, and nausea or vomiting, seek medical care immediately. Other severe symptoms can include blurry eyesight and trouble swallowing.

Scorpion Sting Treatment

Most scorpion stings consist only of a localized reaction and can be treated at home. However, if in doubt, don't hesitate to seek medical help. A few immediate treatment measures may alleviate a worsening of symptoms down the road.

  • First, wash the area with soap and water.
  • If stung on a limb (arm or leg) prop up the affected limb in a comfortable position.
  • Apply a cool compress to the sting site in a 10-minutes-on, 10-minutes-off pattern, repeat as much as necessary.
  • Take over-the-counter pain medicine, such as Advil or Tylenol, as needed. An antihistamine may reduce swelling and itching. You can also use topical hydrocortisone cream.
  • Make sure your tetanus shot and boosters are current.
  • Call a poison help line. The staff will assess the symptoms of the person stung to determine the best course of action. If severe symptoms are present, they will direct you to the nearest emergency facility for treatment. If a decision is made to keep the person at home, the poison center staff will follow up to make sure that the person is not developing symptoms that might need medical intervention or antivenin.

Scorpion Sting Complications

People with allergies to stings and bites, people with other medical conditions, those who have weakened immune systems, babies, small children, and the elderly are most at risk for serious complications from a scorpion sting. Still, rarely is it life-threatening for healthy adults and pets.

Watch carefully for signs of anaphylaxis, such as a rash, swelling of the lymph nodes, a rapid and weak pulse, nausea or vomiting, and difficulty breathing. If any of these symptoms present, don't hesitate to get medical care immediately. The Mayo Clinic advises that you should seek immediate care for a child who is stung, since the amount of venom delivered into a small body could have more serious effects, regardless of the symptoms present.

If you do get stung by a more dangerous species, such as the bark spider, treatment will vary depending on the severity of the sting. A Grade 3 or 4 sting may result in neuromuscular dysfunction, nerve issues, hyperthermia, or, in a worst-case scenario, organ failure. In this instance, an antivenin must be administered immediately.

Scorpion Sting Tips

Many people fear that any scorpion they come across is deadly. This not the case. Still, it's prudent to err on the side of caution if you are stung and, better yet, learn how to prevent being stung altogether.

  • If your traveling to a place where scorpions are present, familiarize yourself with their identifying features. Also, learning their habits will help you better avoid these creatures to protect your family and yourself.
  • Take extra caution when you're camping or engaging in other outdoor activities to make sure that a scorpion has not made a home in your clothes, shoes, or sleeping bag.
  • Scorpions glow brightly under UV light (blacklight). Having one handy can help you assess your surroundings at night.
  • Scorpions are hard to kill. If you suspect an infestation in your house, call a professional exterminator. Also, finding and eliminating their food source (other insects) can help.

Disclaimer: If you are stung by a scorpion and are concerned about your symptoms, call the Poison Control Center hotline, contact a medical professional, or visit an emergency room or urgent care center.

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