Dr Zuze, Health Matters
SCORPIONS are arthropods — a relative of insects, spiders and crustaceans.
The average scorpion is about 8cm long, but different species can be smaller or large.
They sting rather than bite, using the stinger in their tails.
The venom itself contains a complex mix of toxins that affect the nervous system (neurotoxins).
Scorpions are nocturnal creatures that resist stinging unless provoked or attacked.
They can control the amount of venom they release — depending on how threatened they feel — so some stings may be almost entirely venomless.
Contrary to what most people think, scorpion stings, though admittedly painful and scary, are mostly harmless.
They are most serious in young children, older adults and pets.
Healthy adults usually don’t need treatment for scorpion stings, but if your child is stung, seek immediate medical care.
If symptoms are severe, supportive care in a hospital is usually required.
In addition to bed rest, this might include sedatives for muscle spasms and intravenous drugs to manage elevated blood pressure, agitation and pain.
If a scorpion stings you or your child, the suggestions below may be useful at home:
Clean the wound with soap and water.
Apply cold compresses to the affected area to ease the pain and slow the venom’s spread. This is most effective in the first two hours after a sting occurs.
Keep the affected limb raised to the level of your heart.
Try to stay calm and quiet so that the poison, if any, spreads more slowly.
Don’t consume food or liquids if you’re having difficulty swallowing.
Over-the-counter pain relievers, such as ibuprofen, can help ease discomfort. But avoid using narcotic pain medications which can suppress breathing.
Mild signs and symptoms of a scorpion bite might include:
Pain, which can be intense
Numbness and tingling in the area around the sting
Slight swelling in the area around the sting
More-severe signs and symptoms might include:
Muscle twitching or thrashing
Unusual head, neck and eye movements
High blood pressure (hypertension) or low blood pressure (hypotension)
Accelerated heart rate (tachycardia) or irregular heart beat (arrhythmia)
Restlessness or excitability or inconsolable crying (in children)
As with stinging insects, such as bees and wasps, you can have an allergic reaction to a scorpion sting — sometimes severe enough to be life-threatening (anaphylaxis). Signs and symptoms are similar to those of bee stings and can include hives, trouble breathing, and nausea and vomiting. An allergic reaction may be wrongly attributed to the venom, which can cause different but also dangerous symptoms.
The very old and the very young are most likely to die of untreated venomous scorpion bites. The cause is usually heart or respiratory failure occurring some hours after the sting.
The best strategy, however, is to avoid getting stung in the first place. Scorpions tend to avoid contact. If you live in an area where scorpions are common, prevent chance meetings by doing the following:
Remove trash, logs, boards, stones, bricks and other objects that would make good hiding places for scorpions from around your home.
Keep grass closely mowed, and prune bushes and overhanging tree branches, which can provide a path to your roof for scorpions.
Close cracks, install weatherstripping around doors and windows, and repair torn screens.
Don’t store firewood inside your house.
When hiking or camping, wear long sleeves and pants and check your sleeping bag for scorpions before you crawl in. Check your clothing and shake out your shoes before you put them on.
Always wear shoes.
If you are camping or staying in rustic accommodations — shake out your clothing, bedding and packages often and sleep under a mosquito net. If you have a known allergy to insect stings, carry an epinephrine injector, such as EpiPen.