First aid for bites and stings: Spiders

by | Allergy, First Aid and Self-Care

Only 2 Australian spiders, the redback and the funnel-web, pose a threat to human life. 

Medical treatment is usually not required for white-tailed spider bites, although ice packs may relieve acute pain. Clinical experience appears to be limited with mouse spider bites, but funnel-web spider antivenom could be useful in severe cases.

Some common house and garden spiders deliver bites but usually very little damage occurs. However, medical advice should be sought if there is concern. If it can be done safely, it is reasonable to try to capture and save the spider for identification purposes, even if it has been squashed.

Funnel-web spiders

spider bites

Funnel-web spider bites can be fatal, and life-threatening effects can occur quickly – within 10 minutes. If someone is bitten by a funnel-web spider, follow these rules.

  • Check the person’s breathing and circulation. If unconscious follow DRABC plan – Danger, Respond, Airway, Breathing, Circulation.
  • Calm the person and keep them STILL.
  • Dial 000 for an ambulance. It’s important to get the victim to a hospital, preferably by an ambulance that has resuscitation facilities and antivenom for funnel-web spider bites.
  • Apply a broad pressure bandage to the entire limb immediately, especially over the bite site. If bitten on hand, bandage as much of arm as possible, starting just above fingers; if bitten on foot or leg, bandage entire leg from just above toes.
  • Apply a splint to the limb, to keep it STILL.
  • DO NOT remove the bandage — this will result in spread of the venom into the bloodstream.
  • Antivenom is given to people who have symptoms following a funnel-web spider bite.

Signs and symptoms of funnel-web spiders

Pain at the area of the bite, but little redness or swelling.

Person may be salivating and sweating profusely. They may have numbness or tingling around the mouth. Confusion may develop and there can be difficulty breathing. Muscular spasms can occur.

Redback spiders

The bite of a redback spider is immediately painful. Redback spider bites are rarely life-threatening. Ifsomeone is bitten by a redback spider, follow these first-aid rules.

  • DO apply an ice pack to lessen the pain (the pressure-immobilisation technique is not used in this case as the venom acts slowly and any attempts to stop its movement tends to increase local pain, which may become excruciating).
  • DO get the victim to a hospital or medical centre if a child is affected or symptoms are severe.
  • Antivenom can be given in hospital to treat pain and other symptoms from redback spider bites, however antivenom is not routinely used for all people following redback spider bites.

Signs and symptoms of redback spider bites

Bites from redback spiders are immediately painful and tend to get worse. The pain may spread. The bite area becomes red, swollen and hot. Small hairs near the bite may stand on end.

There may also be nausea, vomiting and abdominal pain. Also sweating, especially around the bite.

For more information on all bites and stings, please see our article here.