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Scorpions

This article describes the effects of a scorpion sting.

This is for information only and not for use in the treatment or management of an actual poison exposure. If you have an exposure, you should call your local emergency number (such as 911) or the National Poison Control Center at 1-800-222-1222.

Poisonous Ingredient

  • Scorpion venom

Where Found

  • Scorpions
  • Related species

Scorpions stings kill more people than any other animal, except snakes (snakebites). However, most varieties of North American scorpions are nonpoisonous. 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 may include:

Eyes and ears:

  • Double vision

Lungs:

  • Difficulty breathing
  • No breathing
  • Rapid breathing

Nose, mouth, and throat:

  • Drooling
  • Spasm of the larynx (voice box)
  • Thick-feeling tongue

Heart and blood:

Kidneys and bladder:

Muscles and joints:

Nervous system:

Stomach and intestinal tract:

Home Care

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

Keep the patient and area of the sting still. Place ice (wrapped in a washcloth or other suitable covering) on the site of the sting for 10 minutes and then off for 10 minutes. Repeat this process. If the patient has circulatory problems, reduce the time the ice is on the skin to prevent possible damage.

Before Calling Emergency

Determine the following information:

  • The patient's age, weight, and condition
  • Exact type of insect, if possible
  • The time stung

Poison Control

The National Poison Control Center (1-800-222-1222) can be called from anywhere in the United States. This national hotline number will let you talk to experts in poisoning. 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.

Take the insect with you to the hospital, if possible.

See: Poison control center - emergency number

What to Expect at the Emergency Room

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

  • Blood and urine tests
  • Breathing assistance
  • EKG (electrocardiogram, or heart tracing)
  • Fluids through a vein (by IV)
  • Medication (antiserum) to reverse the effect of the venom
  • Medication to treat symptoms
  • X-rays
  • Tetanus shot, if necessary

Outlook (Prognosis)

Death rarely occurs in patients older than 6 years. If symptoms rapidly become worse within the first 2 - 4 hours after the sting, a poor outcome is more likely. Symptoms may last several days, if not longer. Some deaths have occurred as late as weeks after the sting if complications develop.

References

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: Mosby Elsevier; 2011:chap 53.

Updated: 10/18/2013

Jacob L. Heller, MD, MHA, Emergency Medicine, Virginia Mason Medical Center, Seattle, Washington. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Isla Ogilvie, PhD, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.


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