Daniel Brooks, MD is co-medical director of the Banner Poison and Drug Information Center. The Poison Center can be reached at (800) 222-1222.
Question: My home is surrounded by open desert causing frequent scorpion encounters. I’m pregnant with a toddler at home, but don’t have pest service for fear of the impact the chemicals might have on my son and unborn baby. Which is worse, a scorpion sting or the chemicals?
Answer: Without question, the venom from a scorpion sting is worse.
The vast majority of pesticides that are routinely used to control scorpions and other bugs in homes and yards are minimally, if at all, toxic to humans. From unborn babies and small children to pets such as dogs and cats, pest control chemicals generally present no poisoning concerns.
On the flip side, a scorpion sting can pose serious health risks. The clinical effects of a scorpion sting range from localized pain and tingling or numbness to widespread muscle pain, vomiting and difficulty breathing. These are not allergic reactions, but rather the venomous effects on the nervous and muscular systems.
Depending on the person, a scorpion sting can lead an emergency department visit or, in some cases, admission to an intensive care unit. It is important to note that children usually have more severe reactions to scorpion stings given the ratio of venom to overall body mass. Peak effects of scorpion envenomation are almost always achieved within 45 to 60 minutes of the sting, for children and adults alike.
In contrast to the effects of a scorpion sting, the most common reactions to pesticides include localized skin rash and respiratory irritation that may lead to coughing or sneezing. Allergic reactions are possible, but uncommon. However, there is generally no real ‘poisoning’ and the irritant reactions are only temporary.
Do your due diligence and confirm with your pest control service provider that they are using only non-toxic chemicals.
If you or a loved one have any questions regarding a scorpion sting or chemical exposure, please call the Banner Poison and Drug Information Center at 1-800-222-1222. We receive an average of 20 scorpion-related calls each day. The vast majority of callers are managed over the phone at home by following instructions from our poison center nurses. Our nurses also can help assess whether a caller’s symptoms warrant a visit to the hospital emergency department.
As is always the case, if you have a life-threatening emergency, call 9-1-1.