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Alternative Names Return to topBites - snakes
Definition Return to top
Snake bites occur when a snake bites the skin, and are medical emergencies if the snake is poisonous.
Considerations Return to top
Snake bites can be deadly if not treated quickly. Children are at higher risk for death or serious complications due to snake bites because of their smaller body size.
The right antivenom can save a person's life. Getting to an emergency room as quickly as possible is very important. If properly treated, many snake bites will not have serious effects.
Causes Return to top
Poisonous snake bites include bites by any of the following:
All snakes will bite when threatened or surprised, but most will usually avoid people if possible and only bite as a last resort.
Snakes found in and near water are often mistaken as being poisonous. Most species of snake are harmless and many bites are not life-threatening, but unless you are absolutely sure that you know the species, treat it seriously.
Symptoms Return to top
Symptoms depend on the type of snake, but may include:
Rattlesnake bites are painful when they occur. Symptoms usually begin right away and may include:
Cottonmouth and copperhead bites are painful right when they occur. Symptoms, which usually begin right away, may include:
Coral snake bites may be painless at first. Major symptoms may not develop for hours. DO NOT make the mistake of thinking you will be fine if the bite area looks good and you are not in a lot of pain. Untreated coral snake bites can be deadly. Symptoms may include:
First Aid Return to top
1. Keep the person calm, reassuring them that bites can be effectively treated in an emergency room. Restrict movement, and keep the affected area below heart level to reduce the flow of venom.
2. If you have a pump suction device (such as that made by Sawyer), follow the manufacturer's directions.
3. Remove any rings or constricting items because the affected area may swell. Create a loose splint to help restrict movement of the area.
4. If the area of the bite begins to swell and change color, the snake was probably poisonous.
5. Monitor the person's vital signs -- temperature, pulse, rate of breathing, and blood pressure -- if possible. If there are signs of shock (such as paleness), lay the person flat, raise the feet about a foot, and cover the person with a blanket.
6. Get medical help right away.
7. Bring in the dead snake only if this can be done safely. Do not waste time hunting for the snake, and do not risk another bite if it is not easy to kill the snake. Be careful of the head when transporting it -- a snake can actually bite for up to an hour after it's dead (from a reflex).
DO NOT Return to top
When to Contact a Medical Professional Return to top
Call for medical help if someone has been bitten by a snake. If possible, call ahead to the emergency room so that antivenom can be ready when the person arrives.
You may also call the National Poison Control Center (1-800-222-1222). The center 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
Prevention Return to top
References Return to top
Tintinalli JE, Kelen GD, Stapcynski JS, eds. Emergency Medicine: A Comprehensive Study Guide. 6th ed. New York, NY: McGraw Hill; 2004.Update Date: 2/27/2008 Updated by: Stephen C. Acosta, MD, Department of Emergency Medicine, Portland VA Medical Center, Portland, OR. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M., Inc.