Wilderness First Aid Q&A

How to treat scorpion stings

scorpion-300x222Scorpions, part of the arachnid class, can look like something out of a horror movie.  Like spiders, they have eight legs, thin pinchers (called pedipalps), and a venomous stinger on their tail.  The average size of a scorpion is about 6 cm, but the largest known scorpion grows up to 21 cm! There are hundreds of types of scorpions.  Thankfully, most of them are harmless, but a small handful – yikes! – of them can be dangerous and even potentially lethal to humans. Scorpions are found on all continents besides Antarctica, though in some places such as New Zealand and Great Britain they are not naturally occurring.  Scorpions may be found in, basically, every ecosystem, as they are incredible adapters and are able to survive on even just one insect a year by altering their metabolism!

Let’s shed some more light on scorpions:  Did you know that they glow when placed under ultraviolet light?  No one is quite sure why this occurs; it may be a warning signal to possible predators or even a way to lure their prey.  Either way, it is definitely pretty creepy.

For the most part, the scorpion’s venom is adapted to their lifestyle, and since their diet mostly consists of insects, their venom is typically relatively harmless to humans.  Only about 25 species of scorpions are known to be lethal to humans; the majority of these are part of the Buthidae family.  The two most common lethal scorpions found in the United States are the Arizona Bark Scorpion and the Striped Bark Scorpion.  The Arizona Bark Scorpion is mainly found in the Southwest United States; fatalities from the sting of this scorpion are rare and the greatest risk is for the elderly and young children. The Striped Bark Scorpion is found more in the Central South and the Midwest of the United States; death is also fairly rare with the Striped Bark Scorpion, but the sting can be extremely painful.

So what happens if a human gets stung by a scorpion?  Some common symptoms of a scorpion sting are a tingling or burning at the sting site, numbness, difficulty swallowing, difficulty breathing, blurry vision, or seizures.  In some rare cases, pancreatitis – a painful inflammation of the pancreas – may occur.  Some symptoms of pancreatitis are abdominal pain, chills, fever, sweating, and nausea.  Onset of symptoms is usually quite rapid and can last for between 24 to 48 hours.

If stung by a scorpion, the first thing to do is to make sure you get yourself out of harm’s way and avoid another sting.  If possible, try to remember what color the scorpion is or snap a photo with your smartphone; do NOT try to catch the scorpion because you might end up getting stung a second time!

Once out of harm’s way, call 911 and then wash the sting site with soap and water, apply a cold compress for “10 minutes on, then 10 minutes off.”  Importantly, avoid aspirin or ibuprofen (such as Advil or Motrin) because these can cause the venom to spread through the body more quickly.  Acetaminophen (such as Tylenol) can be taken to help relieve the pain at the site of the sting.  Sometimes even more powerful pain medications, like opiates, are required to help alleviate pain. Taking an oral antihistamine such as diphenhydramine (such as Benadryl) can help reduce some of the swelling and itching, as well.  Immobilize the area so as to protect the wound and to help delay spreading the venom through the blood more quickly.  Do not attempt suction, and do not cut into the wound; these are just great ways to ensure an infection!

In general, it is a good idea to go and get checked out at the nearest hospital or health clinic if stung by a scorpion – especially if the species of scorpion is unknown.

Comments about “How to treat scorpion stings”

  1. Syed says:

    Very usefull information thanx

  2. Prasad says:

    Mix kerosine calcium and lime juice (In India Rokel+Chuna+Limbo juice) and put at point Scorpion bite!

  3. eddie says:

    What happens if u didn’t know it was a scorpion that stung you until almost 24hours ?

  4. Jamesian says:

    In my experience, if you spray your house inside fairly regularly with an
    insecticide made for that purpose, you will usually encounter scorpions
    only after they are dead. Also, by eliminating other insects you will reduce the
    scorpion population, since that’s what they feed on.

  5. creepycrawler says:

    Was moving my garbage bin and was stung in my heel. Thought it was a cholla bud until I saw what was likely an Arizona Bark scorpion. Pain was immediate and intense. Then started the tingling lips, tongue, feet legs, hands and lower arms and aching lower molars. My throat felt scratchy but could have been due to screaming. Went to urgent care and received meds. Now 4.5 hours out, still have tingling symptoms like a low electrical current is flowing through me. I hate these vermin.

  6. statica says:

    vinegar helps

  7. The dude says:

    Scorpions are every where here, little ones, they are great to collect put in a tuna can
    Set them on the edge of a fire the can gets hot and they sting each other to the death !

  8. Penny says:

    Thank you this was very helpful.

  9. haazizz says:

    Very nice advice

  10. Anonymous says:

    good one

  11. this gurl says:

    Scorpions are dangerous period. they are awesome period. just be careful around them period. if you had gotten bit by a scorpion, you were most likely being an idiot.

    • county girl says:

      Not true..I live in the country and we have them quite often out here..we find them in the kitchen floor or in the beds..I have a very clean house and got stung three time by one that way in my bed and I did not know

    • TG says:

      Scorpions dont bite

  12. ben 10 says:

    scorpions are dangerous animals

  13. BigBen says:

    well Arizona was a really nice place I saw one scorpion there.

  14. Lungile says:

    I just want to know that a small scorpion like small finger size is also dangerous because I’ve been bitten by a small size twice and the are lot of small sizes where I am,I’m deployed in Kruger national park for six month as a soldier,so I’m afraid they might bite me again

    • BigBen says:

      Well you know they don’t bite they sting, but watch out the smaller they are the more venomous they are because they don’t know how to control their venom.

  15. Kitkat says:

    This is a good thing to know.

  16. night owl says:

    you keep it in a cage. I think it wold be fun to watch it eat a bug you fed it. Agree?

    • Db says:

      If you have the poor judgement to keep a scorpion as a pet, it should be in a terrarium, not a cage. I live in Phoenix and see scorpions regularly. They are not to be taken lightly.

  17. nhaila says:

    why not use the suction it’s great way to control spreading venom infection may be an issue if out in jungle .

  18. Anonymous says:


  19. Dino924 says:

    How do you keep a pet scorpion?

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  • Dr. Andrew C. Krakowski is the host of the boonDOCS Wilderness & Travel Medicine show on Outdoor Channel. He is the founder of the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine's wilderness medicine program and currently works in the field of pediatric dermatology at the Rady Children's Hospital in San Diego.

    Dr. K loves the outdoors and believes that knowledge, adaptability, and experience are essential for being prepared in the wilderness.