Loxoscelism: Definition, Symptoms & Treatment

Instructor: Artem Cheprasov
Brown recluse spiders get a pretty bad rap. But do they deserve it? That depends on your encounter with one. If you have a severe case of loxoscelism you'll think they deserve their reputation. Find out what this is and how it's treated.

What is Loxoscelism?

If a spider bites you, what do you call that? This isn't a trick question. It's called a spider bite. But if you want to be really specific, you might call it loxoscelism. This is a clinical condition caused by envenomation from the bite of a brown recluse spider. It's called loxoscelism because 'loxoscel-' come to us from the genus of brown recluse spiders, Loxosceles. The suffix '-ism' refers to a condition of some sort.

Brown recluse spider
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Let's find out more about this condition's signs, symptoms and treatments.

Signs & Symptoms

Let's say it's summer and you live somewhere in Louisiana. Prime brown recluse spider territory and season. These spiders are actually not aggressive and are pretty shy, hence the term, recluse spider. Thus, they only bite where threatened. So, you would basically have to touch them to get bit. And you'd have to touch them with your bare skin as well, since their fangs can't bite through clothing. This scenario could happen if you were rolling around in your bed at night and accidentally rolled on to one. Who wants to get squished, right?

What can you expect if that happens to you? Getting bitten, not squished, that is.

Initially, you might feel nothing, or like you just got stung by a bee. But over the next three to eight hours you'll notice that you develop some redness, swelling, and pain in the area of the bite. In most cases, that's about it. The area will heal completely within three weeks, without any need for treatment.

However, in other cases a bite can cause a lot more damage:

  • A blister may develop at the area of the bite and bluish discoloration of the skin might be noted. This can be followed by necrotic ulceration, which refers to the development of a deep sore that results in skin tissue death. This can result in a scar after it heals over a few months.
  • In even more severe cases, a person might develop a fever, chills, joint pain, vomiting, dizziness, a rash, blood abnormalities, kidney failure, seizures or coma.

Necrotic ulceration from a brown recluse spider bite.
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Treatment

Treatment of the bite all depends on the severity of the problem. In minor cases, the bite can be cleaned with mild soap and water. An antibiotic ointment can be applied to the area. The affected area should be elevated and a cool compress, which will help minimize pain, swelling and the spread and activity of the venom, should be applied to the site.

Pain relievers might be advised by the doctor, and antihistamines are sometimes used to help minimize swelling, redness and itching. A doctor may also give a patient a tetanus shot as well.

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