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Spider Bites – When To Worry, Symptoms & First Aid

Spider Bite examples

Table of Contents

Sharon McCulloch


  • Spiders in Australia, including Redbacks and Funnelwebs, are venomous and can cause spider bites.
  • Most spider bites occur when spiders feel threatened, rather than actively seeking out humans as prey.
  • The only two spiders in Australia that can kill with a direct bite are the Redback and the Sydney Funnelweb.
  • Since the development of antivenoms, spider bite deaths in Australia have become extremely rare, with only one recorded death from a Redback bite in the last 40 years.
  • Symptoms of spider bites can include pain, swelling, itching, muscle pain, difficulty breathing, nausea, vomiting, and in severe cases, blisters or ulcers. Proper medical evaluation is important if symptoms worsen or if there are signs of anaphylaxis.

Snakes and spiders have a well-deserved reputation as two of the most venomous creatures you’re likely to meet, and Australia has is well known for having plenty of both. If you are travelling into Australia’s outback or into a remote location, it may be helpful to complete a remote first aid course so you are prepared for all Australia’s wildlife can throw at you and your party.

Spiders, in particular, tend to make foreign visitors nervous. While snakes are occasional visitors in the suburbs (with professionals often called in to remove them), spiders are found in almost every suburban house. Generally, people who grew up in Australia have a healthy respect for them and just adapt to garden sheds having tiny creatures that could (theoretically) end your life. This is something that a lot of international tourists struggle to grasp.

But despite our reputation for deadly wildlife (and the spider’s role in that), how much risk are we truly at from spider bites? What are the odds of suffering poisoning and death from spiders under our outdoor furniture?

When To See A Doctor?

Call an ambulance immediately if:

  • You were bitten by a dangerous spider, such as a Funnel Web Spider.
  • You’re unsure whether the bite was from a dangerous spider
  • You are experiencing intense discomfort, stomach spasms, or a developing injury in the area where you were bitten.
  • You’re encountering difficulties with your breathing or ability to swallow.
  • The region surrounding the bite is exhibiting expanding redness or red lines.

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Spider Bite Symptoms

  • Sudden and unexpected pain around the bite area
  • Swelling, redness, and warmth around the bite
  • Itching or a rash
  • Muscle pain or cramps
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Sweating
  • Chills or fever
  • Headache
  • Appearance of blisters or ulcers in severe cases

Spider bite symptoms min


When Do Spiders Bite, And Why?

Let’s start with how likely a spider is to bite. The reality is that no spider in Australia regards humans as its prey. So you’re never going to have a spider come looking for you as something to eat. In Australia, almost all bites result from a spider feeling threatened – most commonly when someone accidentally approaches or puts a hand in a spider’s hiding place.

Even in those cases, the majority of spiders are reluctant to bite. This is true even of the Redback – probably the most famous Australian spider. Redbacks prefer to escape from danger and only tend to bite as a last resort (such as when someone sticks their fingers in the hole it’s hiding in).

It is true that some spiders respond to threats (like a nearby human) by going on the offensive. The most significant of these is the Funnelweb, which has a reputation for chasing people to bite them (and is sometimes capable of biting through shoe leather). But even these are responding to a perceived threat – they’re not looking for trouble.

What Spider Bite Can Kill You?

Strictly speaking, there are only two spiders in Australia which can kill you with a bite – the Redback, and the Sydney Funnelweb.

The Sydney Funnelweb lives mainly on the east coast of NSW, with a few found in neighbouring states like Queensland, South Australia, and Victoria (and even Tasmania). They make distinctive webs – a tube of spiderweb that radiates out into a funnel of web-strands – giving the species its name. Male Funnel webs are known for wandering at night (in search of food and mates), which is often when they cross paths with humans.

Redbacks live almost everywhere in Australia that humans do. They’re particularly fond of living in human structures – and indeed, they seem to have become far more common since Europeans settled in Australia, and have spread along with the settlers. As such, there are good odds of finding at least one on any Australian property. But they’re reluctant biters and generally only do so as a last resort.

No other Australian spiders have ever killed humans (with the possible exception of road accidents caused by unexpected visitors or secondary reactions). Some can still cause poisoning, resulting in pain, nausea, headaches, and other unpleasant symptoms. But most won’t even do that – the bites of most Australian spiders will do you no more harm than a bee-sting.

In fact, it’s worth noting that almost no one in Australia dies from spider bites nowadays. Since the development of an effective Redback antivenom in 1956, there has been only one death from a Redback bite – a Sydney man who died in 2016). And there have been no recorded Funnel Web bite deaths since the antivenom was introduced in 1981.

Meaning in the last 40 years, only one person in Australia has died from being bitten by a spider.

What Does A Spider Bite Look Like?

Spider bites are unfortunately not always easy to distinguish from other types of bite, such as those from an ant or other insect. There will generally be a small red lump at the bite location, which may itch or sting. In some cases, there may be a tiny puncture wound – or two, very close together, but not always. And again – this is true of many insect bites. It may not even be clearly a bite, appearing more like a sore (especially if some skin is scratched away due to the itching). In many cases, it doesn’t matter, as the majority of spider bites are no more medically significant than an ant bite. For more significant bites, there will generally be other symptoms.

Some spider bites may cause significant pain at or around the wound. Victims may also suffer nausea, headaches, abdominal pain, and vomiting. More severe bites may cause sweating, with swelling or blistering around the wound, and a burning sensation.

Redback spider bite symptoms often include the area around the bite becoming inflamed, painful to the touch, and swollen. They can also cause sweating and muscle weakness or spasms.

For a Funnelweb bite – the most dangerous kind of spider bite – the bite itself will generally be very painful. Funnelwebs are large spiders with big fangs. In addition to more common spider bite symptoms, victims might find themselves drooling and can have difficulty breathing, muscular spasms, numbness in the mouth, goosebumps, tears, disorientation or confusion, a fast pulse rate, and eventually fall unconscious.

If possible, catching the spider that caused the bite (dead or alive) can be a big help, as being able to identify the spider makes treatment a lot simpler. If you can’t catch it, then taking a photo of it or at least taking careful note of its appearance can help. But be careful not to get bitten in the process!

Spider Bite Pictures

Spider bite pictures can serve as visual references to help identify and understand the potential effects of spider bites.

While these spider bite pictures can be informative, it’s important to note that self-diagnosis based solely on visual references of a spider bite picture may not be accurate. If you have any concerns, it is recommended to consult a healthcare professional for proper evaluation and treatment.

Common Spider bite picture

What To Do For A Spider Bite?

The best treatment for a spider bite depends a lot on the kind of spider that caused the bite. Medically spider bites in Australia fall into three categories.

  • Big Black Spiders
  • Redbacks
  • Any Other Spiders

Big Black Spiders covers anything that could potentially be a Funnelweb – which are large spiders with bodies up to 5cm long. Because Funnel Web spiders are highly venomous and hard to distinguish from other large black spiders, treat any large black spider bite as a potential Funnel Web spider bite. You should call for medical assistance ASAP – Funnel Web venom is very fast-acting and could be fatal in less than 15 minutes. Big Black Spider bites should be treated by applying pressure to the wound and using a pressure bandage (and possibly a splint) to limit blood flow and avoid the poison spreading. Keep the person still as much as possible.

The best treatment for most other types of spider bite is generally to apply something cold, like an ice-pack wrapped in a cloth. This is true even for Redback bites – Redback venom is very slow-moving, and most Redback bites do not require hospitalisation unless symptoms get a lot worse.

If anyone in the area has first aid training, you should seek out their help if possible. Professional first aid courses usually cover spider bites and how to identify and treat them. If you’re in an area where spiders are commonplace, this might be a good reason to invest a day in getting proper first aid skills yourself.

When To Go To The Hospital For A Spider Bite (or call 000)

For a confirmed Big Black Spider bite (or a bite where you don’t know the spider but you’re seeing Funnel Web bite symptoms), you should call 000 immediately. Funnelweb venom works very quickly – in small children, death can occur in as little as 15 minutes. However, the time for adults is generally longer – up to three days – and not all bites are life-threatening. It’s best to call for an ambulance rather than attempting to transport the person to hospital yourself, as moving the person around (into and out of the car) could spread the venom more quickly.

For a Redback bite, the majority of cases don’t require medical care (other than first aid). The bite should be iced to control swelling and discomfort, and you can use painkillers such as paracetamol to ease the pain. Keeping the victim still and calm is also helpful. Don’t apply pressure to a Redback bite, as the venom is already slow-moving, and pressure will just cause pain for the victim.

If the symptoms get worse (such as the swelling spreading or the victim sweating or suffering pain in the chest or abdomen), then it’s a good idea to get to the ED (or call 000 for an ambulance).

For most other spider bites (such as huntsman or white tail spider bites), all you need to do is help ease the person’s symptoms (with an ice pack and painkillers) unless their condition gets significantly worse.

The big exception to all this is if the victim starts to show signs of anaphylaxis – such as trouble breathing, swelling or tightness in the throat, or a swollen tongue. If this happens, you should call 000 immediately.

Spider Bites and Anaphylaxis

How Long Does A Spider Bite Take To Heal?

For most spider bites, symptoms should only persist for a day or so, although occasionally they can last significantly longer – up to 2-3 weeks in rare cases.

Redback spider bite symptoms generally last around 24 hours on average and rarely last more than a week.

Funnelweb bites are more significant and can take victims a while to recover fully. Before 1980, victims would generally be in hospital for an average of two weeks. However, this has changed now an effective Funnelweb antivenom is available, and patients are often discharged from hospital within 1-3 days.

How Do I Know If I’ve Been Bitten By A Spider?

  • Sudden and unexpected pain around the bite area
  • Swelling, redness, and warmth around the bite
  • Itching or a rash
  • Muscle pain or cramps
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Sweating
  • Chills or fever
  • Headache
  • Appearance of blisters or ulcers in severe cases

It’s important to note that many of these symptoms can also be caused by other medical conditions, so it’s always a good idea to consult a healthcare professional if you’re unsure about the cause of your symptoms. If you suspect that you have been bitten by a spider, it’s also a good idea to try and identify the type of spider if possible, as some species can be more dangerous than others.

How Long After Spider Bite Do Symptoms Occur?

The time it takes for symptoms to manifest after a spider bite can vary based on factors such as the specific spider species and an individual’s response to the venom. In many instances, symptoms typically emerge within a few hours to a day after the bite occurs. However, there are cases where symptoms may take longer to develop, sometimes even up to a week or more.

It is crucial to understand that not all spider bites result in noticeable symptoms. Some bites may go unnoticed or only cause mild reactions, while others can lead to more severe symptoms and complications. If you suspect that you have been bitten by a spider and have concerns regarding the symptoms or their progression, it is strongly advised to seek medical attention for a proper evaluation and appropriate treatment.

What Does A Spider Bite Feel Like Australia?

In Australia, spider bites can vary in their symptoms and sensations depending on the specific spider species involved. Here are some general characteristics of spider bites in Australia:

Redness and Swelling: Spider bites can cause localised redness and swelling around the bite area. The severity can vary depending on the individual’s reaction and the species of spider.

Pain and Itching: Spider bites can be accompanied by pain or discomfort at the bite site. Itching is also a common symptom that may persist for some time.

Burning Sensation: Some people may experience a burning or stinging sensation at the site of the bite.

Localised Symptoms: Depending on the spider species, you may experience additional symptoms specific to that spider. For example, bites from the funnel-web spider can cause profuse sweating, increased heart rate, and difficulty breathing.

What Are The Symptoms Of Red Back Spiders?

Redback spiders, known as Latrodectus hasselti, are venomous arachnids indigenous to Australia. The symptoms resulting from a redback spider bite can vary depending on an individual’s reaction and the quantity of venom injected. Common indicators associated with redback spider bites encompass:

Localised Pain – The bite area may be afflicted with pain, often characterised as a sharp or stinging sensation.

Redness and Swelling – The bite site can exhibit redness, swelling, and inflammation.

Itching or Rash – Itchiness or the development of a rash around the bite region is possible.

Systemic Symptoms – In certain instances, systemic symptoms may emerge, including:

  • Abdominal Pain: Severe abdominal discomfort, frequently concentrated around the bite location.
  • Muscle Pain and Weakness: Generalised or localised muscle ache and weakness.
  • Sweating: Excessive sweating, occasionally accompanied by chills.
  • Headaches: Intense or persistent headaches.
  • Nausea and Vomiting: Sensations of nausea or episodes of vomiting.
  • Lethargy and Fatigue: Overall tiredness and a lack of energy.

Redback spider bites can be serious, particularly among children, and medical assessment and treatment are necessary to address any potential complications.

How Do You Treat A Red Back Spider Bite?

Redback spiders are known to cause considerable pain with their bites, but they are generally not considered life-threatening. Here are some first aid steps to take if you have been bitten by a redback spider:

  • Wash the Bite Area: Cleanse the bite site thoroughly with soap and water to reduce the risk of infection.
  • Apply a Cold Pack: Use a cold pack or ice pack wrapped in a cloth to the bite area for about 15 minutes. This can help alleviate pain and reduce swelling.
  • Seek Medical Attention for Severe Symptoms: If you experience severe symptoms or the pain is unbearable, it is advisable to see your doctor for further evaluation and appropriate treatment. In cases of intense pain, it may be necessary to visit the local hospital emergency department.

It’s important to note that these first aid measures are intended as temporary relief and should not replace professional medical care. If you have any concerns or doubts, it is always best to seek medical advice promptly.

Do You Need To Go To The Hospital If You Get Bitten By A Redback?

If you encounter severe symptoms or find the pain to be unbearable, it is recommended to seek medical attention for further evaluation and appropriate treatment. In instances of intense pain, it might be necessary to go to the nearest hospital emergency department.

Can You Survive A Redback Bite Without Antivenom?

Surviving a redback spider bite without antivenom is possible, as not all bites result in severe symptoms or complications. In fact, the majority of redback spider bites are not life-threatening.

How Long Does It Take For Redback Venom To Kick In?

The onset of symptoms after a redback spider bite can vary from person to person. In most cases, symptoms begin to manifest within the first few hours following the bite. However, it’s important to note that the time it takes for redback venom to take effect can range from minutes to several hours.

The speed at which symptoms develop can depend on factors such as the amount of venom injected, the location of the bite, and an individual’s sensitivity to the venom. Some people may experience immediate pain or discomfort, while others may not notice any significant symptoms until hours later.

Spider Venom

Spider venom, found in over 45,000 spider species, is highly diverse, with each species producing its unique composition. It serves the purpose of capturing prey and defence, with varying potency and composition.

Spider venom contains proteins, peptides, enzymes, and small molecules, working together to affect prey. It can paralyse prey and even start digesting tissues before ingestion. Some spider venoms cause pain in humans when bitten. However, spider venoms also show potential for medical applications, such as developing drugs and therapies. Most spiders have relatively harmless venom, and only a small percentage pose risks to humans. Spider venom may have anticoagulant properties, and it differs from snake venom in complexity and delivery method. Caution is advised when dealing with potentially dangerous spider species.

Spider Bite Treatment

spider bite first aid


When Should I Be Worried About A Spider Bite?

While most spider bites cause only mild symptoms, there are certain signs that indicate a spider bite may require medical attention. Here are some situations in which you should be concerned about a spider bite:

  • Severe Pain: If the pain from the spider bite is intense, unbearable, or worsening over time, it is a cause for concern.
  • Rapidly Spreading Symptoms: If the symptoms, such as redness, swelling, or rash, rapidly spread beyond the bite area or if red streaks are visible, it may indicate an infection or an allergic reaction requiring medical attention.
  • Systemic Symptoms: The presence of systemic symptoms such as difficulty breathing, chest pain, dizziness, severe headache, nausea, vomiting, muscle weakness, or seizures is concerning and requires immediate medical attention.
  • Necrosis or Ulceration: If the bite site develops necrotic (dead) tissue, ulceration, or a deep wound, medical evaluation is necessary.
  • Known Dangerous Spiders or venomous spiders: If you have been bitten by a known venomous spider, such as a black widow or a recluse spider, it is best to seek medical attention to manage any potential complications.
  • Allergic Reactions: If you have a known history of severe allergic reactions (anaphylaxis) to spider bites or other insect bites, and you experience symptoms such as difficulty breathing, swelling of the face or throat, or a rapid heartbeat, it is an emergency situation that requires immediate medical assistance.

How Long Does It Take For A Spider Bite To Get Serious?

The seriousness of a spider bite can vary in terms of onset and progression. While some individuals may experience rapid and severe symptoms within a few hours of being bitten, others may develop complications over a longer period, possibly spanning several days. It is crucial to bear in mind that serious spider bites are relatively uncommon, and the majority of spider bites are harmless or result in only mild symptoms.

Do Spider Bites Always Need Antibiotics?

Spider bites generally do not require antibiotics in most cases. Basic wound care and symptomatic treatment are often sufficient for managing the majority of spider bites. Antibiotics are typically reserved for situations where there is a secondary infection or if the bite has become severely infected.

If you are uncertain about the severity of a spider bite or observe signs of infection, such as increasing redness, swelling, warmth, or the presence of pus, it is essential to seek medical advice. A healthcare professional can assess the bite, determine the necessity of antibiotics, and provide appropriate treatment based on the specific circumstances. It is important to avoid self-diagnosis and self-medication as they may result in unnecessary antibiotic use and potential complications.

What Ointment Is Good For Spider Bites?

An antihistamine to help with the itching and a topical antibiotic cream to prevent an infection should do the trick. You can also apply a cold compress on the bite for 15 minutes at a time to help alleviate pain.

What Is Commonly Mistaken For A Spider Bite?

Spider bites can sometimes be misidentified as other types of skin sores that exhibit similar characteristics such as redness, pain, and swelling. It is important to note that many skin sores initially thought to be caused by spider bites are actually the result of bites from various other insects, including ants, fleas, mites, mosquitoes, and biting flies.

The similarity in symptoms between spider bites and bites from other bugs can make it challenging to determine the exact cause without proper medical evaluation. In some cases, the presence of a spider may lead to the assumption that it was responsible for the bite, even though another insect might be the actual culprit. This highlights the importance of seeking medical advice for proper diagnosis and treatment.

Healthcare professionals are equipped with the knowledge and experience to differentiate between different types of insect bites. They can evaluate the characteristics of the sore, consider the patient’s symptoms and medical history, and make an accurate determination regarding the cause of the skin lesion. This ensures that appropriate measures are taken for effective treatment and management.

How To Treat A Spider Bite?

For first aid treatment of spider bites other than Funnel Web and Redback spiders, the following steps can be taken:

Apply A Cold Compress: Place a cold  compress or ice pack wrapped in a cloth on the bite site for about 15 minutes. This can help reduce pain, swelling, and inflammation.

Reapply As Needed: If the pain or swelling persists, continue to apply the cold compress as necessary. Take breaks between applications to prevent excessive cold exposure to the skin.

It’s important to note that while these first aid measures can provide temporary relief, they do not replace professional medical evaluation and treatment. If you experience severe symptoms, an allergic reaction, or if the bite worsens over time, it is essential to seek medical attention promptly for proper assessment and care.

Cellulitis From Spider Bite

Symptoms of cellulitis resulting from an insect bite may not manifest immediately in the first few days. Typically, they begin with a small section of skin that becomes red, swollen, tender, and warm to the touch. The affected skin may resemble the texture of an orange peel or form blisters. Additional signs may include fever and chills. While cellulitis primarily occurs on the feet and legs, it can potentially emerge on any area of the body.

Spider Bite

Cellulitis from Spider Bite

To minimise the risk of developing cellulitis from an spider bite, consider following these preventive measures:

Clean The Spider Bite: Wash the affected area with soap and water to remove any dirt or bacteria that may have been introduced by the insect bite.

Apply Antibiotic Ointment: If the skin is broken or the bite appears to be at risk of infection, apply an over-the-counter antibiotic ointment to prevent bacterial growth.

Cover The Bite: Use a sterile bandage or dressing to cover the insect bite. This will help keep it clean, protect it from further irritation, and discourage scratching, which can introduce bacteria and increase the risk of cellulitis.

Replace Bandage And Ointment: Regularly change the bandage and reapply fresh antibiotic ointment to ensure cleanliness and promote proper healing. Replace them daily or whenever they become dirty or wet.

Minimise Itching: To reduce the urge to scratch the insect bite, consider taking over-the-counter antihistamines. These medications can help alleviate itching and minimise the chances of breaking the skin, which could lead to infection.

Remember, if you notice any signs of cellulitis, such as increasing redness, warmth, swelling, or fever, it’s important to seek medical attention promptly.

The content on this website offers general insights regarding health conditions and potential treatments. It is not intended as, and should not be construed as, medical advice. If you are facing a medical emergency, dial 000 immediately and follow the guidance provided.

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