Children's Hospital Colorado

Scorpion Sting

  • Sting from a scorpion
  • Onset of local pain and tingling after a scorpion is seen in the area
  • The main symptoms are pain, tingling and numbness at the sting site

Scorpions

  • Scorpions look like tiny lobsters in front. In back, they have a long tail with a stinger at the end. It curls up and over their bodies. They have 8 legs, like spiders.
  • Venom: The stinger has venom. The venom causes pain and other symptoms when it is shot into the skin.
  • Size: average size is 3 inches (7.5 cm). Range in size from 1 - 7 inches (2.5 to 18 cm).
  • Scorpions are most active at night. They like dark and moist places.
  • There are about 40 types of scorpions in the US.
  • All scorpions can sting, causing pain, tingling, and numbness at the sting site. Note: Some stings do not inject venom.
  • The only US scorpion that can cause serious symptoms is the bark scorpion. See below.
  • Children and older adults are more likely to have severe symptoms. People with chronic medical problems are also at higher risk.

Bark Scorpion

  • The only US scorpion that can cause serious symptoms is the bark scorpion.
  • Color: bark scorpions are yellow-brown (tan) or orange in color.
  • Size: 2-3 inches long (5-7.5 cm)
  • They are found mostly in Arizona. Also can be found in New Mexico, Nevada, California, and Texas. They also live in Mexico, Central America, and the Caribbean.
  • Deaths in the US from a scorpion sting are rare.
  • Note: Most people cannot tell a bark scorpion from a harmless scorpion. Catching or saving the scorpion to show your doctor is not helpful. Treatment is based on symptoms. Just kill the intruder.

Types of Reactions for Bark Scorpion Stings

  • About 85% cause only local symptoms at the sting site.
  • About 10% cause painful shock waves in the same arm or leg as the sting.
  • Less than 5% cause any serious symptoms.

Mild Symptoms of a Scorpion Sting

  • All scorpion stings cause pain, tingling, and numbness at the sting site.
  • Pain starts right away. The pain can be severe for the first 2 hours. Symptoms around the site start to go away over the next 24 hours.
  • There is often no swelling or redness of the sting.
  • About 10% of stings also cause waves of tingling. The tingling travels up the stung arm or leg. It feels like an electric shock.
  • Most scorpion stings do not need to be seen.

Serious Symptoms of a Scorpion Sting

Most people will not get any serious symptoms. If they do occur, they will start in the first 2-3 hours after the sting. First signs of a serious sting can be muscle twitching or rapid eye movements. Pain, tingling and numbness can also spread to all the arms and legs. Other serious symptoms include:

  • Trouble swallowing
  • Trouble breathing
  • Blurry eyesight
  • Roving or jerky eye movements
  • Slurred speech
  • Muscle twitching

Expert Reviewers:

  • Anne-Michelle Ruha, MD, and Min Kang, MD, pediatric toxicologists

Call 911 Now

  • Passed out or too weak to stand
  • Trouble breathing or wheezing
  • Drooling or trouble swallowing
  • Seizure or muscle jerking
  • Hives or swelling all over the body
  • You think your child has a life-threatening emergency

Go to ER Now

  • Jerky eye movements or vision problems
  • Muscle twitching that's mild
  • Child is restless (can't sit still)
  • Child crying and can't be comforted

Call Poison Center Now

  • Any symptoms occur in other parts of the body. Note: symptoms that only spread up the stung arm or leg are safe.
  • Age less than 2 years
  • Sting caused by known bark scorpion
  • Your child looks or acts very sick
  • You think your child needs to be seen, and the problem is urgent

Call Doctor Within 24 Hours

  • Spreading redness that started over 24 hours after the sting
  • You think your child needs to be seen, but the problem is not urgent

Call Doctor During Office Hours

  • Last tetanus shot over 10 years ago
  • You have other questions or concerns

Self Care at Home

  • Minor scorpion sting with symptoms only around the sting
  • Waves of tingling and pain only up the arm or leg with the sting
  • Preventing scorpion stings

Care Advice

Scorpion Sting Treatment

  1. What You Should Know about Scorpion Stings:
    • The main symptoms are pain, tingling and numbness only in the sting area.
    • Symptoms shouldn't be any worse than a bad bee sting.
    • Sometimes, the arm or leg with the sting gets waves of tingling and pain.
    • Here is some care advice that should help.
  2. Clean the Sting Site:
    • Wash the sting site well with soap and water.
  3. Cold Pack for Pain:
    • For pain or swelling, use a cold pack. You can also use ice wrapped in a wet cloth.
    • Put it on the sting for 20 minutes.
  4. Pain Medicine:
    • To help with the pain, give an acetaminophen product (such as Tylenol).
    • Another choice is an ibuprofen product (such as Advil).
    • Use as needed.
  5. Treatment of Painful Shock Waves up the Arm or Leg:
    • Until they go away, keep using the pain medicine as needed.
    • Also, try to avoid bumping that arm or leg.
  6. What to Expect:
    • Pain at the sting site is usually gone by 24 hours.
    • Shock waves of tingling also gone by 24 hours.
    • Numbness and tingling around the sting may last 2 to 3 days.
  7. Call Your Doctor If:
    • Serious symptoms occur
    • Pain, tingling or numbness start on both sides of the body
    • Sting starts to look infected
    • You think your child needs to be seen
    • Your child becomes worse

Prevent Scorpion Stings

  1. Prevent Scorpion Stings:
    • Do not walk barefoot in the desert, especially at night. Scorpions are most active at night.
    • Check your shoes before you put them on (shake them).
    • Shake out clothes, towels, bedding, and sleeping bags before using.
    • Roll back your sheets at night, before getting into bed.
  2. Prevent Scorpions Around Your Home:
    • Clear away any piles of wood or debris that are near the house. Scorpions hide there.
    • Weatherstrip your windows and doors.
    • Place the legs of a baby's crib in wide-mouthed glass jars. Scorpions can't climb glass.
    • Hire a pest control expert for repeated problems.
  3. Call Your Doctor If:
    • You have more questions

Care Advice

Scorpion

This image shows the frontal view of the bark scorpion of Arizona.

Disclaimer

The information contained in these topics is not intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice, it is provided for educational purposes only. You assume full responsibility for how you choose to use this information.

Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare provider before starting any new treatment or discontinuing an existing treatment. Talk with your healthcare provider about any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Nothing contained in these topics is intended to be used for medical diagnosis or treatment.

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    • If your child is taking medications, they could influence how he experiences various symptoms.

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