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Caterpillars

Caterpillars (long, fuzzy, segmented insects) are unable to pierce the skin with their bite. However, their hairs may get into the skin or eyes, causing symptoms in the area where the hairs entered.

Problems also can occur if someone breathes in caterpillar hairs that have been released into the air, or eats caterpillars.

This is for information only and not for use in the treatment or management of an actual poison exposure. If you have an exposure, you should call your local emergency number (such as 911) or the National Poison Control Center at 1-800-222-1222.

Symptoms

  • Eyes
    • Pain
    • Redness
    • Tearing
  • Gastrointestinal
    • Drooling
    • Mouth and throat irritation
    • Vomiting, if caterpillar or caterpillar hairs are eaten
  • Nervous system
    • Headache
  • Respiratory system
    • Cough
    • Rhinitis
    • Shortness of breath
    • Wheezing
  • Skin
    • Blisters
    • Hives
    • Itching
    • Rash
    • Redness
  • Whole body
    • Pain
    • Severe allergic reaction (anaphylaxis -- rare)
    • Swelling

Home Treatment

Remove irritating caterpillar hairs. If the caterpillar was on the skin, apply adhesive tape (such as duct or masking tape) to the site, then pull it off. Repeat as needed until all hairs are removed. Apply calamine lotion to the affected area, and then ice. Place ice (wrapped in a washcloth or other suitable covering) on the site of the bite for 10 minutes and then off for 10 minutes. Repeat this process. If patient has circulatory problems, decrease the time to prevent possible damage to the skin.

If the caterpillar touched the eyes, flush the eyes immediately with plenty of water and then get medical help.

Get medical care if you breathe in caterpillar hairs.

Before Calling Emergency

Determine the following information:

  • Patient's age, weight, and condition
  • Type of caterpillar, if possible
  • Time of the incident

Poison Control, or a local emergency number

The National Poison Control Center (1-800-222-1222) can be called from anywhere in the United States. This national hotline number will let you talk to experts in poisoning. They will give you further instructions.

This is a free and confidential service. All local poison control centers in the United States use this national number. You should call if you have any questions about poisoning or poison prevention. It does NOT need to be an emergency. You can call for any reason, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

See: Poison control center - emergency number

What to expect at the emergency room

The health care provider will measure and monitor your vital signs, including temperature, pulse, breathing rate, and blood pressure. Symptoms will be treated as appropriate. You may receive:

  • Eye examination
  • Eye flushing with water or saline
  • Inhaled bronchodilator medications
  • Oxygen
  • Medications to control pain and itching
  • Skin exam to remove all caterpillar hairs
  • Topical numbing (anesthetic) drops
  • Treatment for any allergic reaction

Expectations (prognosis)

The faster you get medical help, the better the chance for recovery. The outcome is usually very good.

References

Steen CJ, Schwartz RA. Arthropod bites and stings. In: Wolff K, Goldsmith LA, Katz SI, et al., eds. Fitzpatrick’s Dermatology in General Medicine. 7th ed. New York, NY: McGraw-Hill; 2008:chap 210.

Updated: 1/15/2012

Eric Perez, MD, St. Luke's / Roosevelt Hospital Center, NY, NY, and Pegasus Emergency Group (Meadowlands and Hunterdon Medical Centers), NJ. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network.


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