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According to the CDC, about 8,000
snakebites happen in the U.S. each year. Even a bite from a "harmless" snake can cause
infection or allergic reaction in some people. For your safety, treat all snakebites as if
they are venomous. Go to a hospital emergency room as quickly as possible. This is vital if
you aren't sure of the exact type of snake that bit you. With the correct treatment
(antivenin), you can prevent severe illness or death. Antivenin, also called antivenom, is
a treatment specific to the venom of a particular animal or insect.
If you often spend time in wilderness
areas, camp, hike, picnic, or live in snake-inhabited areas, learn the possible dangers
posed by venomous snakes. You should:
Know how to identify venomous snakes
Be able to get to medical help in case of emergency
Be aware that snakes are more active during warmer months
What snakes are venomous?
The most common venomous snakebites
are caused by:
Pit vipers. These include rattlesnakes, copperheads, and cottonmouth
(water moccasin) snakes. These snakes have a venom that destroys tissue (skin and
muscle) and cause problems with your blood
Coral snakes. These snakes have a venom that that affects your nerves and
can cause paralysis.
Rattlesnake bites cause most of the venomous bites in the U.S. Coral snakes and imported exotic snakes cause a much smaller number of snakebites.
What are the symptoms of venomous bites?
Different snakes have different
types of venom and symptoms may differ. The most common symptoms of venomous snakebites
Bloody wound discharge
A lot of bleeding and trouble
with clotting of blood
Fang marks in the skin and swelling at the site of the bite
Severe pain at the bite site
Discoloration, such as redness and bruising
Enlarged lymph nodes in the area affected
A lot of sweating
Loss of muscle coordination
Nausea and vomiting
Numbness and tingling, especially in the mouth
Altered mental state
The symptoms of a venomous
snakebite may look like other health conditions or problems. See a healthcare provider
for a diagnosis.
Treatment for snakebites
Call for emergency help right away
if you have been bitten by a snake. Responding quickly in this type of emergency is
crucial. While waiting for emergency help:
Wash the bite with soap and water.
Keep the bitten area still
and lower than your heart.
Cover the area with a clean,
cool compress or a moist dressing to ease swelling and discomfort. If a coral
snake bit you, apply some firm pressure directly over the wound with a clean cloth
and your hand.
Watch your breathing and
Remove all rings, watches, and constrictive clothing, in case of swelling.
Note the time of the bite so that it can be reported to an emergency room healthcare provider if needed.
If possible, draw a circle
around the affected area and mark the time of the bite and the initial reaction.
If you are able, redraw the circle around the site of injury over time.
It is helpful to remember what the snake looks like, its size, and the type of snake if you know it, in order to tell the emergency room staff.
Don't apply a tourniquet.
Although this is common to see in movies or on TV, it worsens the outcome and
makes it more likely that you could lose your arm and or leg. That is because it
keeps all of the toxin in 1 place and gives it more time to cause damage. It also
cuts off blood supply to any healthy tissue and causes more damage.
Don't try to suck the venom
out. This is another movie and TV method that does not work. You can't get the
venom out this way. But you may cause an infection and more damage.
At the emergency department you may be given:
Antibiotics to prevent or
Medicine to treat your pain
A special type of antivenin
for the type of snake that bit you and the severity of your symptoms
Some bites are not possible to
prevent. For example, a snake may bite you when you accidentally step on it in the
woods. But you can take steps to reduce your chances of being bitten by a snake. You
Leave snakes alone. Many people are bitten because they try to kill a snake or get too close to it.
Stay out of tall grass unless
you wear thick leather boots. Stay on hiking paths as much as possible.
Keep hands and feet out of areas you can't see. Don't pick up rocks or firewood unless you are out of a snake's striking distance.
Be careful and alert when
Online Medical Reviewer:
Eric Perez MD
Online Medical Reviewer:
Date Last Reviewed:
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