Caterpillars

Definition 

Caterpillars (long, fuzzy, segmented insects) are unable to pierce the skin with their bite. However, their hairs may become embedded in the skin or eyes, causing symptoms confined to the area of the penetration.

Some caterpillar hairs can be released into the air, where they can be inhaled causing respiratory irritation. Eating caterpillars may cause an upset stomach.

Symptoms 

Body as a whole:

     
  • Swelling  
  • Pain  
  • Anaphylaxis (rare)

Skin:

     
  • Rash  
  • Redness  
  • Itching  
  • Hives  
  • Blisters

Eyes:

     
  • Pain  
  • Redness  
  • Tearing

Respiratory:

     
  • Rhinitis  
  • Cough  
  • Wheezing  
  • Shortness of breath

Gastrointestinal:

     
  • Vomiting, if caterpillar or caterpillar hairs are eaten

Home Treatment 

The objective is to remove irritating caterpillar hairs. On skin, apply adhesive tape (such as duct or masking tape) to the site, then pull off. Repeat as needed until all hairs are removed. Follow with calamine lotion, and apply ice to the affected area.

Eyes should be flushed immediately with plenty of water before seeking professional medical care. If respiratory symptoms develop following inhalation of caterpillar hairs, administer beta-agonist inhalers or antihistamines (if available), then seek professional medical care.

Before Calling Emergency 

Before calling the emergency number determine the following:

     
  • Patient’s age, weight, and condition  
  • Identity of the caterpillar, if possible  
  • Time of the incident

Poison Control, or a local emergency number 

See Poison Control Centers for telephone numbers and addresses. Poison Control may instruct you to go to the hospital for further care. If possible, bring the caterpillar to the emergency room for identification. If an emergency situation exists, call your local emergency number, such as 911.

What to expect at the emergency room 

Emergency treatment may include:

Treatment for anaphylaxis if required.

Skin exposures:

     
  • Ensure all hairs are removed  
  • Topical or oral medications to control pain and itching

Eye exposures:

     
  • Flushing eyes with water or saline  
  • Topical anesthetic drops  
  • Detailed eye examination

Inhalation exposures:

     
  • Supplemental oxygen  
  • Inhaled bronchodilator medications  
  • Antihistamines

Expectations (prognosis) 

The outcome is generally very good, and death is exceedingly rare.

Johns Hopkins patient information

Last revised: December 3, 2012
by Levon Ter-Markosyan, D.M.D.

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All ArmMed Media material is provided for information only and is neither advice nor a substitute for proper medical care. Consult a qualified healthcare professional who understands your particular history for individual concerns.