Spiders and insects and snakes, oh my!

March 6, 2020

Although my teenage years consisted of locking my gaze locked on a computer screen, I can assure you that at some point in time, I actually enjoyed the great outdoors. While playing outside, I would come across a variety of creatures, some of which were particularly more irritating than others, namely various insects, spiders and snakes. 

Encounters with these critters can range from harmless to potentially fatal. If you are a person that goes outside, even if that solely consists of walking to class, it is essential to know which creatures pose a threat and which do not.

Almost everyone has had an encounter with an insect. Indeed, “insect” is a very broad term, ranging from the bloodthirsty mosquitoes chasing you as you run back to campus to the ants grabbing your picnic sandwiches. Mild symptoms that are associated with insect bites include redness, swelling and itching at the site. These symptoms will typically go away on their own, and there is no need for concern. However, for safe measure, applying an antibiotic ointment is typically useful to prevent an infection.

For some people, an infection is not all there is to worry about. For those of you who have allergies, you know exactly what I am talking about. Some people can develop a serious, life-threatening allergic reaction in response to being bitten or stung by insects such as bees. 

Symptoms for this severe allergic reaction include hives, difficulty breathing and swelling of the face, nose and throat. If the affected person has a prescribed epi-pen, administer it immediately by taking the blue safety cap off and pressing the orange side into the person’s outer thigh for about five seconds. You should also seek medical attention immediately.

Spiders, though considered freaky-looking and terrifying by many (I still can’t believe some people find them cute), are usually not too harmful. Most spider bites will consist of the same mild symptoms involved with insect bites: redness, swelling and itching at the site. Similar to insect bites, mild spider bites typically go away on their own, and applying an antibiotic ointment should be used to prevent infection.

There are two types of spiders that are a cause for concern: the black widow and the brown recluse. The black widow is very unique and easy to spot. It has a large black abdomen with a red hourglass-shaped mark. If you are bitten by a black widow, you may not notice serious symptoms until a few hours later, when you can experience symptoms such as vomiting, fever and difficulty breathing. 

The brown recluse’s appearance is less unique. It is large and tan. Symptoms of a brown recluse bite include intense pain and blisters at the bite site. For any encounter with these spiders, although they are not often fatal in healthy adults, it is essential to seek medical attention immediately. This is because some of these bites have a long period between exposure to the bite and the signs and appearance of the first symptoms.

Snakes are very similar to spiders in that many snake bites are often harmless, and only result in mild symptoms such as redness, swelling and itching. In this case, treatment includes thoroughly washing the wound, protecting it with a bandage and applying an antibiotic ointment.

However, there are a few species of snake that are poisonous and fatal to humans, including the copperhead, coral, cottonmouth and rattlesnake. All of these snakes are indigenous to the United States. Severe symptoms that result from the venom of these poisonous snakes are vomiting, seizures, dizziness, weakness and paralysis. If someone is bitten by a poisonous snake, seek medical attention immediately.

Although many species of insects, spiders and snakes are considered harmless, it is important to remember that everyone reacts to bites and stings differently. What is harmless for one person can lead to a severe allergic reaction for another. Adapting to these differences in how people react to injuries is not only important in treating bites and stings but also in dealing with other injuries and medical problems that you might come across.

(Note: These articles are good-faith attempts to be helpful to the Brandeis community and are by no means to be taken as universal. This article does not replace the advice of a medical professional. This article is not written on behalf of the Brandeis Emergency Medical Corps (BEMCo) and is not affiliated with BEMCo in any manner.)