Scorpions make for a cool astrological sign, but in reality, these eight-legged arachnids put the “ack!” in “zodiac,” with stings that can cause pain, swelling and even neurological issues.
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If you live in or are visiting a place where these venomous vermin are common, including the American south and southwest, make sure you know what to do in case of a scorpion sting. Urgent care physician Karl Elser, DO, walks you through the basics.
What to do if you’re stung by a scorpion
Ouch! You couldn’t get out of the way fast enough, and you ended up on the receiving end of a scorpion’s painful wrath. Now what?
First things first, try not to panic, at least if you’re located in North America: Though there are dozens of types of scorpions, the continent is home to only one type of scorpion whose venom is deadly enough to kill. That’s the Arizona bark scorpion (Centruroides sculpturatus), a small, beige bugger 2 to 3 inches long — and even its stings are treatable with some quick thinking and careful attention.
Get out of range
In nature, scorpions are often found hiding in crevices and beneath rocks, logs and other objects; they also sometimes make their way inside homes and other buildings. After you’re stung, be sure to distance yourself from the scorpion that got you (and from the likelihood of others) to treat your injury.
“The biggest thing is to stay calm and make sure you move to an area where you’re not going to get stung again,” Dr. Elser says.
Home remedies for a scorpion sting
Most scorpion stings aren’t fatal or anywhere close to it — but because there’s no real way to know how much venom you’ve taken in, it’s best to see a doctor.
“There are different grades of severity of the reaction to scorpion stings, and it’s hard to tell whether or not it’s going to progress into something worse,” Dr. Elser says. “If the sting is more than just mild to moderate localized pain, you really should go to a medical facility to be evaluated.”
Here are some things you can do to treat lesser scorpion stings on your own.
Lessen the pain
Even the most minor of scorpion stings can pack a painful punch, so take these simple, straightforward measures to address the pain.
- Clean the wound and apply a small amount of antibiotic ointment.
- Apply cool compresses to the injured area and elevate it to the same level as your heart.
- Take an over-the-counter painkiller like ibuprofen or acetaminophen.
Monitor your injury
As you treat your scorpion sting, try to assess how it’s impacting you. “While you’re taking care of your scorpion sting in the moment, monitor what it’s doing to your body and whether you need to seek additional help,” Dr. Elser says.
Because scorpion stings can have neurological impacts, be sure to let someone else know you’ve been stung, whether it’s a friend, family member or even a nearby stranger if you’d been spending time alone outdoors. It’s important to make sure someone else can keep an eye on you should you take a turn for the worse.
Don’t suck out the venom!
Sorry to break it to you, but adventure movies lied. “Definitely do not try to suck out the venom or make a cut on top of the sting to let out the venom or anything like that,” Dr. Elser says.
These so-called remedies have no positive impact on your scorpion sting and can in fact expose you to additional bacteria and an increased likelihood of infection.
Sometimes, pain makes you want to take a nap — but if you’ve been stung by a scorpion, be sure not to take any medications that will cause sedation or sleepiness. This includes benzodiazepines, which are depressants that lower brain activity.
“If you start to have neurological problems or breathing trouble from the sting, but you’re sedated on top of that, it can make things a lot worse,” Dr. Elser says.
When to seek help after a scorpion sting
Some scorpion stings just plain hurt, while others have a more significant effect on the body. If you’re experiencing numbness, trouble breathing or swallowing, slurred speech or any other unusual health issues, seek immediate medical assistance so a doctor can administer antivenom.
“Go to the nearest emergency department and let them know that you got stung by a scorpion,” Dr. Elser advises. “The standard of observation is four hours to make sure it doesn’t progress into something worse.”