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Is it a spider bite? Here’s how to tell — and what to do

Did you know that we have thousands of different species of spiders in Australia?

Some spider bites can be very serious. If you’ve been bitten (or suspect you’ve been bitten) by a funnel-web spider or mouse spider (both of which are large and black), call 000 for immediate medical assistance. Firmly bandage the affected limb and keep quiet and calm until help arrives.

If you’ve been bitten by a redback spider (identified by an orange to red stripe along the back), immediately wash the area with soap and water. Apply a cold pack for 15 minutes, and reapply if pain continues. If severe symptoms develop, seek medical assistance.

Luckily, most spiders are relatively harmless, causing little more than some localised pain and swelling or redness. Some spiders can cause little to no pain when they bite — especially if you’re asleep. So how do you know if you’ve been bitten?

The symptoms

The symptoms of a spider bite will vary depending on the type of spider. For this reason, it’s advisable to try and catch the spider if possible, to help identify the species. Do this by placing an empty jar over the spider and then sliding paper or card underneath. Keeping the card or paper at the mouth of the jar, turn the jar right way up and replace the paper or card with the jar’s lid.

Mild to moderate symptoms of a spider bite include redness and itching, sharp pain at the bite site, and nausea, abdominal pain, and vomiting.

According to St John Ambulance Australia, other symptoms can include profuse sweating, swelling, blistering and a burning sensation.

Additional symptoms of a funnel web or mouse spider bite are copious secretion of saliva, difficulty breathing, muscular spasms, numbness around the mouth, tears, disorientation, a fast pulse, increased blood pressure, and confusion leading to unconsciousness.

Additional symptoms of a redback spider bite include intense pain at the site of the bite which increases and spreads, patchy sweating, headache, muscle weakness or spasms.


As stated above, if you know or suspect you’ve been bitten by a funnel-web spider or mouse spider, call 000 for an ambulance and ask the patient to keep as still as possible. St John Ambulance has a fact sheet that explains how to apply an elasticised roller bandage over the limb immediately while you wait for help to arrive.

If you’ve been bitten by a redback spider, wash the site with soap and water and then ice the bite for 15 minutes, and repeat if symptoms persist. If the symptoms get worse, seek medical assistance.

For other bites, speak to your doctor or local pharmacist. If you’ve managed to trap the spider, take it with you to help identify the species and course of treatment. Topical numbing creams can help to relieve itching, while panadol or ibuprofen can help to relieve pain.

Preventing spider bites

There are steps that you can take to help prevent being bitten by a spider. These include:

● Using fly screens and draught strips on your doors and windows to prevent spiders from entering your home.

● Thoroughly shaking out shoes or clothing that has been left outside.

● Checking outdoor furniture for spiders before use, and wearing long trousers and long-sleeved clothing where possible when sitting outside or working in the garden (as well as wearing gardening gloves).

● Making sure that the windows of your car are rolled up when it is parked.

● Avoid leaving piles of clothing, towels or bedding on the floor.

● Wear shoes when going outside.

If you’re in doubt, it’s best to seek medical attention as spider bites can be dangerous. Your local Capital Chemist pharmacist is only a phone call away and can help provide advice.

You may also be interested in the following:

How to care for wounds


Acknowledgement of Country

Capital Chemist acknowledges the Traditional Custodians of the land on which we operate, live and gather as employees, and recognise their continuing connection to land, water and community. We pay respect to Elders past, present and emerging.