Ask the Doc: I Got a Spider Bite. Was it a Brown Recluse?

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Hey Doc,

I was working outside and was bite on my hand by some type of spider. Initially, my hand hurt for a solid 10 minutes then gradually eased off. The spider was huge, possibly brown, with a body the size of a quarter. I could not capture it after it fell in the bushes, and I did not go to the emergency room because of the wait and the pain went away.

What does a brown recluse spider bite feel like? Any idea of what type of spider it was?

Bitten and Confused, Chattanooga TN


Ouch! Suspected or confirmed spider bites are a common presenting problem in emergency rooms and primary care offices. Aside from an allergic reaction to the particular spider there are only two common spiders in the Southeastern U.S. that have venom that is harmful to humans. The first and least common of the two is the black widow. The black widow’s most recognizable features are its characteristic black body with a red hour glass. It may take up to an hour until the bite causes pain and swelling. The venom affects a person’s neurological system causing a range of symptoms from diffuse muscle pain, sweating, tremor to even loss of muscle control.

The second spider is the brown recluse. Brown recluse spiders are almost always less than ½ inch in size, are brown to tan with lighter legs, no color banding of the leg, and have three sets of eyes (six eyes total). Pain and swelling may not occur initially either for several hours. However, when the pain occurs it is significant! One of the most dreaded complications of this type of venom is its ability to destroy skin and blood cells. Days following a bite, a person will notice blistering and a large amount of swelling. Both spiders form webs in isolated places not out in the open. Usually pain control and anti-inflammatory drugs are all that is needed. In extreme cases a person may need hospitalization and potentially surgery. Given the spider’s size and the bite my guess would be a wolf spider. This type of spider can grow several inches and is great in gardens to keep away other pests. Its venom is harmless to humans.


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