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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 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

When To Call

Call 911 Now

  • Passed out (fainted) 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
  • Mild muscle twitching
  • Child is restless (can't sit still)
  • Child crying and can't be comforted

Call Doctor or Seek Care Now

  • Scorpion sting and No past tetanus shots. Note: tetanus is the "T" in DTaP, TdaP, or Td vaccines.

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 old
  • 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

Contact Doctor Within 24 Hours

  • Spreading redness that started more than 24 hours after the sting
  • Last tetanus shot was more than 10 years ago
  • You think your child needs to be seen, but the problem is not urgent

Contact Doctor During Office Hours

  • 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

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.

Clean the Sting Site:

  • Wash the sting site well with soap and water.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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

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.

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.

Call Your Doctor If:

  • You have more questions



Bark scorpion

This image shows the bark scorpion of Arizona.

Source: Wikimedia Commons
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 License. Wikimedia Commons.

Barton Schmitt MD, FAAP
Disclaimer: this health information is for educational purposes only. You, the reader, assume full responsibility for how you choose to use it.
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