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Snakebites


Poisonous Snakes

In the US the poisonous snakes are rattlers, copperheads, cottonmouths, and coral snakes. Currently thousands of people per year in the US are bitten by a poisonous snake. Out of these thousands of people, about 6 will die each year from the bite. In over 30% of poisonous snake bites, no venom is injected (dry bites). If venom is injected, the fang marks will begin to burn and hurt within 5 minutes and swell within 30 minutes. Begin first aid only if these signs develop.

First Aid:

  • Transportation

    Go to the nearest hospital emergency room as rapidly as possible. The most important part of therapy is antivenin, and it needs to be given within 4 hours. Have your child lie quietly in transit to keep the venom from being absorbed. If the bite is on the arm or leg, remove any rings or bracelets before swelling occurs.

  • Antivenin

    The most important treatment for poisonous snakebites is going to a hospital emergency department as fast as possible so the child can receive appropriate antivenin and other emergency treatment.

  • Lymphatic constriction band for bites on arm or leg

    If you are more than 60 minutes from the hospital, use a lymphatic constriction band 2 to 4 inches above the bite to help slow the spread of venom. Use a wide band such as an elastic wrap or stocking. Make it loose enough to easily slip 1 finger under it. The band should not be so tight that it cuts off blood flow. If the veins stand out, the band is too tight. If the hand or foot turns white or the pulse disappears, the band is much too tight. The American Red Cross recommends that you not release the lymphatic constriction band until after antivenin has been given.

  • Venom Suction: Not Helpful

    Venom suctioning devices remove very little venom and are not helpful. Also, do NOT try to suck venom out with your mouth. It will not help and is likely to contaminate the wound. It also puts you at risk of venom getting into your bloodstream through an open sore. Also, do not cut the skin over the fang marks to try to draw out venom. It is not effective. Finally, never put ice on the area of the bite because ice can cause frostbite, which increases the risk of damage to the skin.

Unidentified Snakes

Sometimes the snake has disappeared by the time the parent has been notified. In other cases, the snake has been killed but is hard to identify. (Bring it with you after you're certain it is dead.) Most bites are from harmless snakes, but some precautions are in order.

Home Care

Usually, the small teeth of a snake just leave a scrape that doesn't even puncture the skin. There should not be any fang marks. Just wash it well with soap and water. If the skin is punctured, call for a tetanus booster if your child hasn't had one in more than 5 years.

Call Your Child's Healthcare Provider Immediately If:

  • 1 or 2 puncture (fang) marks are present.
  • The bite area is swollen.
  • Blood blisters or purple spots are present in the bite area.
  • Your child develops any symptoms in the next 6 hours.

Nonpoisonous Snakes

Most of these bites are from garter snakes during attempted capture or from pet snakes. All are harmless.

Home Care

Usually, the small teeth of a snake leave a scrape that doesn't even puncture the skin. Wash it well with soap and water. If the skin is punctured, call for a tetanus booster if your child hasn't had one in more than 5 years.

Call Your Child's Healthcare Provider Immediately If:

  • Your child develops any symptoms in the next 6 hours.

Written by B.D. Schmitt, MD, author of "Your Child's Health," Bantam Books.
Published by RelayHealth.
Last modified: 2009-08-13
Last reviewed: 2010-06-02

This content is reviewed periodically and is subject to change as new health information becomes available. The information is intended to inform and educate and is not a replacement for medical evaluation, advice, diagnosis or treatment by a health care professional.

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