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Scorpions

Definition

This article describes the effects of a scorpion sting.

This article for information only. DO NOT use it to treat or manage a scorpion sting. If you or someone you are with is stung, call your local emergency number (such as 911), or your local poison center can be reached directly by calling the national toll-free Poison Help hotline (1-800-222-1222) from anywhere in the United States.

Poisonous Ingredient

Scorpion venom contains the poison.

Where Found

This venom is found in scorpions and related species.

The class of insects to which scorpions belong, contains the largest number of venomous species known.

Scorpion stings kill more people around the world than any other animal, except snakes (from snake bites). However, most varieties of North American scorpions are NOT poisonous. The poisonous ones in the United States live mainly in the southwestern deserts.

Symptoms

In mild cases, the only symptom may be a mild tingling or burning at the site of the sting.

In severe cases, symptoms in different parts of the body may include:

EYES AND EARS

  • Double vision

LUNGS

  • Difficulty breathing
  • No breathing
  • Rapid breathing

NOSE, MOUTH, AND THROAT

  • Drooling
  • Itching of the nose and throat
  • Spasm of the larynx (voice box)
  • Tongue that feels thick

HEART AND BLOOD

KIDNEYS AND BLADDER

MUSCLES AND JOINTS

NERVOUS SYSTEM

SKIN

  • Heightened sensitivity to touch in the area of the sting
  • Sweating
STOMACH AND INTESTINAL TRACT

Home Care

Most stings from North American scorpions do not need treatment. Children 6 years and younger are more likely to have harmful effects from poisonous types of scorpions.

  • Clean the area thoroughly with soap and water.
  • Place ice (wrapped in a clean cloth) on the site of the sting for 10 minutes and then off for 10 minutes. Repeat this process. If the person has problems with blood circulation, decrease the time that the ice is on the area to prevent possible skin damage.
  • Keep the affected area still, if possible, to prevent the venom from spreading.
  • Loosen clothing and remove rings and other tight jewelry.
  • Give the person diphenhydramine (Benadryl and other brands) by mouth if they can swallow. This antihistamine drug may be used alone for mild symptoms.

Before Calling Emergency

Have this information ready:

  • The person's age, weight, and condition
  • Type of scorpion, if possible
  • The time of the sting
  • Location of the sting

Poison Control

Your local poison center can be reached directly by calling the national toll-free Poison Help hotline (1-800-222-1222) from anywhere in the United States. They will give you further instructions.

This is a free and confidential service. All local poison control centers in the United States use this national number. You should call if you have any questions about poisoning or poison prevention. It does NOT need to be an emergency. You can call for any reason, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

What to Expect at the Emergency Room

Take the insect with you to the hospital, if possible. Make sure it is in a tightly closed container.

The health care provider will measure and monitor the person's vital signs, including temperature, pulse, breathing rate, and blood pressure. The wound and symptoms will be treated. The person may receive:

  • Blood and urine tests
  • Breathing support, including oxygen, tube through the mouth into the throat, and breathing machine
  • Chest x-ray
  • ECG (electrocardiogram, or heart tracing)
  • Fluids through a vein (by IV)
  • Medicine to reverse the effect of the venom
  • Medicine to treat symptoms

Outlook (Prognosis)

Death from scorpion stings rarely occurs in people older than 6 years. If symptoms rapidly become worse within the first 2 to 4 hours after the sting, a poor outcome is more likely. Symptoms may last several days or longer. Some deaths have occurred as late as weeks after the sting if complications develop.

Scorpions are nocturnal predatory animals that usually spend the day under rocks, logs, or floors and in crevices. DO NOT stick your hands or feet in these hiding places.

References

Nogar JN, Clark RF. Arthropod bites and stings. In: Adams JG, ed. Emergency Medicine: Clinical Essentials. 2nd ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2013:chap 140.

Otten EJ. Venomous animal injuries. In: Walls RM, Hockberger RS, Gausche-Hill M, eds. Rosen's Emergency Medicine: Concepts and Clinical Practice. 9th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2018:chap 55.

Suchard JR. Scorpion envenomation. In: Auerbach PS, Cushing TA, Harris NS, eds. Aurebach's Wilderness Medicine. 7th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2017:chap 44.


Review Date: 7/10/2017
Reviewed By: Jacob L. Heller, MD, MHA, Emergency Medicine, Emeritus, Virginia Mason Medical Center, Seattle, WA. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, Brenda Conaway, Editorial Director, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.
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