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.
Scorpion venom contains the poison.
This venom is found in scorpions and related species.
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.
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
- Difficulty breathing
- No breathing
- Rapid breathing
Nose, mouth, and throat
- Spasm of the larynx (voice box)
- Tongue that feels thick
Heart and blood
Kidneys and bladder
Muscles and joints
Stomach and intestinal tract
- Abdominal cramps
- Inability to hold in stool
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.
Keep the person and the area of the sting still. 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, reduce the time the ice is on the skin to prevent possible skin damage.
Before Calling Emergency
Have this information ready:
- The person's age, weight, and condition
- Exact type of scorpion, if possible
- The time of the sting
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
- EKG (electrocardiogram, or heart tracing)
- Fluids through a vein (by IV)
- Medicine to reverse the effect of the venom
- Medicine to treat symptoms
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.
Nogar JN, Clark RF. Arthropod bites and stings. In: Adams JG, ed. Emergency Medicine. 2nd ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2013:chap 140.
Otten EJ. Venomous animal injuries. In: Marx JA, ed. Rosen's Emergency Medicine: Concepts and Clinical Practice. 8th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2014:chap 62.
Steen CJ, Schwartz RA. Arthropod bites and stings. In: Wolff K, Goldsmith LA, Katz SI, et al., eds. Fitzpatrick's Dermatology in General Medicine. 7th ed. New York, NY: McGraw-Hill; 2008:chap 210.
Suchard J. Scorpion envenomation. In: Auerbach PS, ed. Wilderness Medicine. 6th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Mosby; 2011:chap 53.
Reviewed By: Jacob L. Heller, MD, MHA, Emergency Medicine, Virginia Mason Medical Center, Seattle, WA. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Isla Ogilvie, PhD, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.