Medically reviewed by Drugs.com. Last updated on Feb 4, 2024.
What do I need to know about a snake bite?
Most snakes are not venomous. Some snakes inject venom that can act as a poison in your body. Even venomous snakes often bite without injecting venom. The venom may cause severe skin and tissue damage after several hours or days. A snake bite is a serious condition and can be life-threatening.
What are the signs and symptoms of a snake bite?
Signs and symptoms may be mild to severe. You may not feel anything at first. You may have any of the following minutes to hours after you were bitten:
- Redness, pain, and swelling where you were bitten or up the bitten limb
- Numbness, tingling, burning, or paralysis
- Abdominal pain, upset stomach, vomiting, diarrhea, or little or no urination
- Anxiety, weakness, drowsiness, or dizziness
- Fever or chills, headache, twitching or seizures
- A bruise, blister, pus, ulcer, or black tissue around the wound site
- Nose bleed, or blood in your spit, vomit, or bowel movement
- Chest tightness, trouble breathing, or pale or blue skin, lips, or fingertips
How is a snake bite diagnosed?
Your healthcare provider will ask where and when you were bitten. Tell him or her if you know what kind of snake bit you, or describe it. Your provider will closely look at your injury. He or she will check the area around it. He or she may press your skin in the groin or armpit to feel your lymph nodes. Your provider may measure around your bitten limb more than 1 time to check the amount of swelling. He or she may order blood or urine tests to look for signs that the snake venom is causing injury.
How is a snake bite treated?
- Antivenom is the main treatment for most poisonous snake bites. Antivenom is most effective if given within 4 hours of a snake bite. It neutralizes the venom, preventing it from causing more damage. You may need more than 1 dose. Tell your healthcare provider if you are allergic to papaya or other vaccines. You may be allergic to antivenom. Also tell your provider if you have other allergies or medical conditions.
- Your bite wound will be cleaned with soap, water, and germ-killing solutions. This helps wash away germs that may be in the wound, and decreases the risk of infection.
- Td vaccine is a booster shot used to help prevent tetanus and diphtheria. The Td booster may be given to adolescents and adults every 10 years or for certain wounds and injuries.
- Surgery may be used to cut tissues covering muscles. This decreases pressure on blood vessels and nerves caused by swelling. Damaged and dead tissue will be removed with surgical cleaning.
What should I do if a snake bites me?
- Stay calm, sit or lie down, and stay still. Avoid moving the part of your body where you were bitten. Too much movement may help spread the venom to other parts of your body. If the bite is on your arm or leg, use a splint if possible to keep the limb still.
- Do not try to treat the bite or remove the venom. Never cut into a snake bite wound. You could spread the venom. Do not try to remove the venom. Snake bites need to be treated as quickly as possible by a medical professional. Do not try to treat the wound with heat, cold, or electric shock.
- Remove items. Remove tight-fitting clothing and jewelry items such as rings, watches, and bracelets near your bite. Do not apply a tourniquet to the wound area.
- Keep the bitten area below the level of your heart, if possible. The venom will spread more slowly if the wound stays below the level of your heart.
- See a healthcare provider right away. Do not wait until you have symptoms.
How can I prevent a snake bite?
Snake bites are most common when the weather is warm. Snakes are more active in warm weather, and people spend more time outdoors. Snakes bite to defend themselves when they feel threatened. This usually occurs when the snake is not moving and not seen, or is hidden by plants. The following can help you prevent a snake bite:
- Dress to protect yourself. Wear shoes or boots to protect your feet. Wear pants to protect your legs.
- Learn where snakes may be found. Snakes rest in cool, shaded areas during hot weather. Do not put your hands or fingers into holes or places you cannot see.
- Leave snakes alone. Do not try to catch, frighten, or attack a snake. Back away slowly. Do not pick up a snake that appears to be dead. Even dead snakes can deliver venom through their fangs. Rattlesnakes shake the ends of their tails to make a rattle sound that warns that it feels threatened. If you hear a rattlesnake, move away quickly.
- Light your path. Use a flashlight or lamp when you walk outside at night. Do not walk in areas where you cannot see the ground.
Call your local emergency number (911 in the US) if:
- You have chest pain or trouble breathing.
- You have tightness in your throat, wheezing, or a swollen tongue.
When should I seek immediate care?
- You have a rash over your body.
- You feel dizzy, have a fever, start vomiting, or sweat more than usual.
- You develop swelling, redness, or more pain around your bite.
- Your skin is red, swollen, or more painful.
- You have problems moving the injured part.
- You have numbness or tingling in the area of the bite.
- Your urine is dark or you urinate less than is usual for you.
- Your wound does not stop bleeding, or have bleeding through your nose or other parts of your body.
When should I call my doctor?
- Your wound gets larger or becomes more red and has pus.
- You have questions or concerns about your condition or care.
Where can I find more information?
- 24-Hour Nationwide Poison Control Hotline
National Capital Poison Center
3201 New Mexico Avenue, Suite 310
Washington , DC 20016
Phone: 1- 800 - 222-1222
Web Address: http://www.poison.org
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
1600 Clifton Road
Atlanta , GA 30333
Phone: 1- 404 - 6393311
Phone: 1- 800 - 3113435
Web Address: http://www.cdc.gov
Care AgreementYou have the right to help plan your care. Learn about your health condition and how it may be treated. Discuss treatment options with your healthcare providers to decide what care you want to receive. You always have the right to refuse treatment. The above information is an educational aid only. It is not intended as medical advice for individual conditions or treatments. Talk to your doctor, nurse or pharmacist before following any medical regimen to see if it is safe and effective for you.
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