Venomous snake bites: What to do if you get bitten

Signs of venomous snake bites

Venomous snakes found in the United States include rattlesnakes, copperheads, cottonmouths/water moccasins, and coral snakes. Pay attention to the following venomous snake bite signs.


Depending on the type of snake, the signs and symptoms of a venomous snake bite may include:

  • A pair of puncture marks at the wound
  • Redness and swelling around the bite
  • Severe pain at the site of the bite
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Labored breathing (in extreme cases, breathing may stop altogether)
  • Disturbed vision
  • Increased salivation and sweating
  • Numbness or tingling around your face and/or limbs

Venom is a clear, pale yellow fluid secreted by glands connected with a pair of hollow fangs hinged to the upper jaw. When the snake strikes, the fangs are swung forward from the roof of the mouth and the poison is injected into the punctures as if by hypodermic needles.

Treatment for snakebite has changed over the years. Accepted practice no longer involves making X-cuts at or above the fang marks and sucking the poison out with your mouth.

What to DO if you or someone else is bitten by a snake

The first thing to do if bitten is to stay calm. Generally, the most serious effect of a rattlesnake bite to an adult is local tissue damage which needs to be treated. Children, because they are smaller, are in more danger if they are bitten.

  • Keep the bitten person still and calm. This can slow down the spread of venom if the snake is poisonous.
  • If you or someone you know are bitten, try to see and remember the color and shape of the snake, which can help with treatment of the snake bite.
  • Seek medical attention as soon as possible.
  • Dial 911 or call local Emergency Medical Services (EMS).
  • Remove any jewelry the person may be wearing. Swelling from the snakebite can progress rapidly, so rings, watches and bracelets can turn into a real problem.
  • Apply first aid if you cannot get the person to the hospital right away.
    • Lay or sit the person down with the bite below the level of the heart.
    • Tell him/her to stay calm and still.
    • Cover the bite with a clean, dry dressing.
  • Get the victim to a hospital as quickly as possible. Antivenin serum is the only sure cure, and because some people are allergic to horse serum it should only be given in a fully equipped medical facility.
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What NOT to do if you or someone else is bitten by a snake

  • Do not pick up the snake or try to trap it (this may put you or someone else at risk for a bite).
  • Do not apply a tourniquet.
  • Do not slash the wound with a knife.
  • Do not suck out the venom.
  • Do not apply ice or immerse the wound in water. Researchers have found freezing of the stricken limb is a major factor leading to amputation.
  • Do not drink alcohol as a pain killer.
  • Do not drink caffeinated beverages.

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