Scorpion stings can be painful, but in most cases, they will not cause any major complications. What a person should do after a scorpion sting depends on the type of scorpion and the symptoms that follow.

If a person experiences any of the following symptoms after a scorpion sting, they need immediate medical attention:

  • difficulty breathing
  • drooling
  • difficulty swallowing
  • seizures or muscle jerking
  • hives and swelling over the body
  • difficulty standing
  • unconsciousness

The only scorpion in the United States that has venom potent enough to cause serious complications is the bark scorpion (Centruroides). It is 2–3 inches long and either yellow-brown or orange.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), experiencing a sting from the bark scorpion can cause life threatening complications.

Although people can find scorpions in several areas of the U.S., the bark scorpion tends to reside in southwestern states.

Keep reading for more information on how to treat a scorpion sting.

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In most instances, scorpion bites do not cause any major complications.

If a person thinks that they have experienced a scorpion sting, they should wash the sting site with water and soap. They can also call Poison Control for guidance on 800-222-1222.

The CDC recommend that adults take the following steps if a scorpion stings them:

  • Contact a healthcare provider or Poison Control for instructions and advice related to the sting.
  • Apply ice to the sting site to help with pain and swelling.
  • Remain calm and relaxed.
  • Avoid taking any sort of sedative.

According to Seattle Children’s Hospital, if a scorpion stings a child, what a parent or caregiver should do depends on their reaction to the sting.

For example, they recommend self-care if mild symptoms — such as pain, numbness, or tingling — occur only around the site of the sting.

However, if a parent or caregiver is concerned, or if the child’s last tetanus shot was more than 10 years ago, they should inform a doctor of the sting.

They may also want to call a doctor if skin flushing starts to spread after 24 hours from the sting.

A person should call 911 if an adult or child experiences the following:

  • muscle jerking or spasms
  • difficulty swallowing
  • drooling
  • leg weakness
  • unconsciousness
  • difficulty breathing
  • swelling or hives over the body

If in doubt, a person should call 911 or seek emergency help immediately.

According to Poison Control, those with the highest risk of developing severe symptoms are young children. A 2019 article adds that older adults are also at risk of developing severe symptoms.

Treatment varies based on the species of scorpion that stung the person. However, if in doubt, a person should seek medical care as soon as possible.

For mild symptoms, such as pain and numbness at the site of the sting, a person may not need much care. They may wish to perform self-care that involves:

  • cleaning the area around the sting
  • applying a cold pack or compress
  • taking ibuprofen or acetaminophen for pain relief

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) suggest elevating the affected body part so that it is at the same level as the heart.

However, if a more dangerous species — such as a bark scorpion — stings a person, treatment will vary depending on the severity of sting:

Grade 1

This means that pain, swelling, and other symptoms are limited to the area of the sting. This only requires pain management.

Grade 2

There is pain and some paralysis at or near the site and closer to where the limb connects to the body.

Treatment often includes pain management and may involve antianxiety medication.

Grade 3

This can include all the symptoms of grade 2, alongside flailing limbs and an arching back (skeletal neuromuscular dysfunction) or increased saliva production, blurry vision, and rapid movement of the tongue (cranial nerve issues).

Treatment includes the use of pain relievers, anxiety medications, and antivenom.

Grade 4

A person will experience both skeletal neuromuscular dysfunction and cranial nerve issues, as well as organ failure, hyperthermia, or pulmonary edema.

Antivenom is critical for people experiencing these symptoms. However, according to Poison Control, many hospitals do not stock the antivenom, and it can be very expensive.

For most stings, symptoms will consist of mostly local reactions to the sting. Fewer than 10% of all scorpion stings will cause severe symptoms.

Young children and older adults are most likely to develop life threatening reactions to a sting.

Around 85% of bark scorpion stings cause only a mild, local reaction. About 10% cause waves of pain in the legs or arms, and around 5% cause serious symptoms.

Mild symptoms of a scorpion sting may include:

  • tingling, pain, or numbness at the site of the sting
  • limited or no swelling
  • limited or no skin flushing
  • tingling, pain, or numbness that travels up the arm or leg
  • symptoms that typically only last for about 24 hours

If serious symptoms occur, they will develop within 2–3 hours of the sting. The first serious symptom may be rapid eye movements or muscle twitching.

Other serious symptoms and complications may include:

  • jerky eye movements
  • blurry vision
  • muscle twitching
  • difficulty breathing
  • difficulty swallowing
  • slurred speech

According to Poison Control, there has not been a reported death from a scorpion sting for nearly 50 years.

However, complications can occur. If a person has reached the grade 4 classification scale, they may experience:

  • high body temperatures
  • pulmonary edema
  • multiple organ failure
  • rhabdomyolysis, which occurs when the muscle tissues break down and release a protein called myoglobin into the blood

People in the U.S. who are most at risk of a bark scorpion sting live or work in southwestern areas of the country, including the following states:

  • Arizona
  • Utah
  • Texas
  • Nevada
  • California
  • New Mexico

The CDC recommend that people at risk of exposure, such as those working in outside areas, take the following steps:

  • Wear leather gloves.
  • Wear long sleeves.
  • Shake out clothing, shoes, and boots before putting them on.

A person should also carry an epinephrine auto-injector if they have a history of allergic reactions to insect bites or stings.

Scorpions are most active at night. Therefore, people should exercise extra caution working outside at night.

A person should see a doctor if they have symptoms that get worse within 2–3 hours of the sting.

A person needs emergency medical care if they have severe, potentially life threatening conditions that develop immediately following a sting.

According to the 2019 article, in most cases, a scorpion sting will only cause local pain, burning, or tingling. In these cases, a person will likely only require home treatment, which can include taking pain relievers, cleaning the sting, and applying ice.

If the symptoms are more serious, such as spreading pain or difficulty breathing, a person will likely need medical attention.

With proper medical treatment, a person is likely to make a full recovery.

In rare cases and among vulnerable populations, including young children and older adults, a person may die from a scorpion sting.

Scorpion stings are not usually a life threatening issue.

After experiencing a sting, a person should wash the area with soap and water and contact Poison Control for guidance.

Often, a person will only need home care, such as pain relievers and ice. However, more serious cases may require additional medication and treatment.

With proper medical care, most people should recover from a serious case.

People most at risk of experiencing a sting from a bark scorpion are those who live or work in the southwestern areas of the U.S. They may wish to take extra precautions while working outside.