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Scorpion Stings: Symptoms & Treatment

Instructor: Amanda Robb
In this lesson, we'll be learning about the painful experience of scorpion stings. By the end of the lesson, you will be able to explain symptoms of different types of scorpion stings and various treatments.

What Are Scorpions?

Imagine a prehistoric creature from hundreds of millions of years ago. You might be thinking of a Tyrannosaurus rex (T. rex), towering 20 feet above you, or an Apatosaurus stretching 70 feet long as it grazes on trees. These animals definitely did exist, but some modern animals were around in that era too. Scorpions are arthropods that have origins over 400 million years ago. Their incredible adaptations have allowed them to survive into modern times with relatively unchanged body structures.

Scorpions are incredibly resilient, tolerating extreme desert heat and arid conditions, and they can even be frozen and thawed to come back to life. But perhaps the most useful adaptation is a tail with a sharp stinger filled with venom. Scorpion venom can have as many as 45 different toxins, all of which are designed to paralyze their prey. Luckily for humans, out of the thousands of scorpion species, only 30 to 40 have venom strong enough to kill humans.

Symptoms

Symptoms of a scorpion sting depend on the species. Here, we'll look at four common scorpions in different parts of the world.

Desert Hairy Scorpion

Imagine hiking through the southwestern desert of the United States. As the sun begins to dip lower in the sky, you start to set up your camp, only to see several scorpions scuttling out of the ground. They are quite large; some of them even look as big as seven inches long!

But, if you are in this situation, don't despair; the scorpions you're seeing are most likely the desert hairy scorpion. Although large, this scorpion is not deadly to humans. Its stinger is filled with a mild venom that feels similar to a bee sting. Symptoms include a sharp pain at the site, accompanied by redness and swelling. Like a bee sting, this sting should resolve on its own. But, some humans can be allergic to the venom, which can be fatal. If a person experiences hives, difficulty breathing, nausea, or vomiting, they should receive emergency medical attention.

Bark Scorpion

Unlike the benign desert hairy scorpion, a sting by the bark scorpion can be quite serious. Living in the same area as the desert hairy scorpion, this is not a good one to come across in the wild. They are small, only 2.5 inches long, but they pack a big punch, being one of the most venomous scorpions in America.

You can find bark scorpions hiding in the house by shining a black light over them
bark scorpion

If you are stung by a bark scorpion the symptoms can be intense. Starting with extreme pain at the sting site, the poison first causes swelling and redness in the area. Victims with severe reactions experience numbness, frothing at the mouth, respiratory failure, muscle twitching, and convulsions. These symptoms are more common in children that have been stung by a bark scorpion and require immediate medical attention.

Indian Red Scorpion

Even more deadly than the bark scorpion is the Indian red scorpion. Living in India and parts of Pakistan, it is one of the most deadly scorpions in the world. In extreme cases, it causes convulsions, loss of consciousness, fluid collection in the lungs, and heart dysfunction that can result in widespread organ failure. Due to their small size, children are especially vulnerable for fatal stings from the Indian red scorpion.

Deathstalker Scorpion

Up for the title of world's most dangerous scorpion is the deathstalker scorpion, found in northern Africa and the Middle East. It lives up to its name for unfortunate victims who receive a sting. Its venom contains excitatory neurotoxins that amplify nervous system action, resulting in muscle convulsions, high blood pressure, and eventually organ failure.

Deathstalker scorpion in Israel
death stalker scorpion

Victims of a deathstalker scorpion sting will experience extreme pain at the injection site and swelling. Next, headaches may onset with nausea, vomiting, abdominal cramps, and diarrhea, and eventually, the venom may lead to fluid retention in the lungs and convulsions.

First Aid

In the event of a mild sting, you should clean the wound with soap and water. It's important to apply a cold compress to the area for about 10 minutes as well. The cold helps prevent the spread of venom and will give some relief from the pain. Over-the-counter pain medication like acetaminophen or ibuprofen can also be used to manage pain. This management works fine for stings from scorpions like the desert hairy scorpion or the large emperor scorpion, as they produce pain and swelling but not life-threatening conditions.

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