Snake Bite: Symptoms, First Aid, Treatment, Prognosis, Prevention

Snake bite commonly results in puncture wounds , which are inflicted by the snake’s fangs. Most of the times, snakes kill their victims with constriction around the chest causing cessation of breathing and heart rate. Many of the times the snakes are non-venomous snakes. Snakes inhabit every continent except for Antarctica. A bite from poisonous or venomous snake can be lethal and needs prompt medical attention. A bite from a harmless or non-venomous snake can also be serious, resulting in a severe allergic reaction or infection. The symptoms produced from a venomous snake bite range from localized swelling, pain, nausea, convulsions and paralysis.

Snake Bite

First aid measures, which should be undertaken after being bitten by a snake includes, remaining calm, cleaning the bite region and immobilizing the bite area. However, it is important to transfer the bite victim to emergency care for treatment. The prognosis for a snake bite, if treated on time, is good.

How To Identify Venomous Snakes?

If you are not familiar with the different species of snakes and are not able to distinguish between non-venomous and venomous snakes, then you should always treat the situation, as if it was a venomous snake bite. Majority of the snakes in America are not venomous, but there are several types of them which are. Barring the coral snake, all the snakes are pit vipers, which can be identified by a depression or a pit between the eye and the nostril. Triangular head is another distinguishing factor of the pit vipers.

Common Symptoms Of A Snake Bite

  • Pain is felt at the region bitten by the snake.
  • Two puncture wounds can be seen at the site of the snake bite.
  • Swelling and redness is seen around the puncture wounds caused by snake bite.
  • Patient bitten by a snake is likely to experience difficulty in breathing.
  • Nausea and vomiting occurs.
  • The vision becomes blurry.
  • Patient salivates and sweats more.
  • Patient experiences numbness in the face and limbs.

Specific Symptoms Of Specific Type Of Venomous Snake


Rattlesnakes can be easily recognized by the rattling sound, which they make using their tails. The end of the Rattlesnake’s tail contains rings and they shake their tails when they feel threatened, as a warning to back people away from them. Among venomous snakes, rattlesnakes are the largest of them and are responsible for majority of the venomous bites in America. Rattlesnakes are found in almost any type of habitat across the country. They tend to reside in open areas, logs and rocks where they can rest in the sun.

Symptoms Of Rattlesnake Bite:

  • Abrupt pain is felt after being bitten by rattlesnake.
  • The eyelids start to droop.
  • The blood pressure starts to drop and the patient bitten by rattlesnake becomes hypotensive.
  • Thirst is felt.
  • Patient experiences weakness in the muscles or tiredness.

Cottonmouths Or Water Moccasins

The water moccasin is also a pit viper. The internal region of this snake’s mouth is lined with white, cotton like material. For this region it is also known as a cottonmouth. The average size of water moccasin is between 50 to 55 inches. The skin color of the adult snakes is dark tan to black with black or faint dark brown bands across it. Young snakes have orange or brown bands with a yellow colored tail. These snakes are commonly found in the southeastern states and in or near the water. Water moccasins are not easily scared.

Symptoms Of Cottonmouths Or Water Moccasins Snake Bite

The symptoms of Water Moccasin bites are similar to Copperhead bites; and symptoms which are specific to both these types are:

  • Pain is felt immediately after being bitten by cottonmouth or water moccasins.
  • Patient has changes in the skin color following a bite from cottonmouth or water moccasins.
  • Patient experiences weakness.
  • Patient has low blood pressure and can also go into shock.


Copperheads, as the name itself suggests, are gold or reddish in color with bands on them shaped like hourglass. The average length of Copperheads is around 18 to 35 inches. Copperheads are commonly found in swamps, forests, rivers, rocky areas and in the eastern states. Copperheads are not aggressive and copperhead bites often occur when someone steps on them or near them accidentally.

Symptoms Of Copperheads Snake Bites

Symptoms Of Copperheads Snake Bites

The symptoms of Copperhead snake bites are similar water moccasin snake bite and include:

  • Abrupt pain.
  • Skin color changes following a bite from Copperhead snake.
  • Weakness.
  • Low blood pressure.
  • Shock.

Coral Snakes

The bands of the coral snakes are black, red and yellow in color and are commonly confused with the non-venomous king snakes. The main distinguishing feature of a coral snake is that the red bands touch the yellow bands. Coral snakes reside in the marshes, woods and sandy regions of the South. Coral snakes often hide under the ground and beneath the leaf piles.

Symptoms Of Coral Snake Bite

Symptoms Of Coral Snake Bite

  • Pain is felt, but is not felt immediately after Coral snake bite.
  • Patient starts experiencing other symptoms after some hours of being bitten by coral snake.
  • The eyelids start to droop following coral snake bite.
  • Patient has convulsions.
  • There are changes in skin color.
  • Pain in the stomach.
  • Headache.
  • Difficulty in swallowing.
  • Shock and paralysis can also occur following coral snake bite.

First Aid For Snake Bites

  • Immediately call 911.
  • Try to keep the victim still and calm, as any type of movement will cause the venom to spread more quickly throughout the body. You can also make a splint to restrict any movement of the bitten area.
  • Clean the wound and cover it with a sterile dressing.
  • Remove any tight clothing or jewelry which can restrict circulation. Also there can be swelling in the bitten area, so it is imperative to remove any constricting items.
  • Transport or carry the victim to the hospital via vehicle. Patient should not be allowed to walk.
  • In case the snake is dead, then you should take it with you to the hospital for identification and better treatment.
  • If you don’t have the snake, then try to remember the color, size and shape of the snake so you can describe it to the doctor, which makes identification and treatment easier.

There are many first aid techniques which are now obsolete and believed to cause more harm than benefit. Below mentioned are some of them. Things NOT TO DO after a snake bite:

  • Using a tourniquet.
  • Cutting into the snake bite.
  • Using a cold compresses in the bite region.
  • Avoid giving medications on your own.
  • Never raise the bite region above the victim’s heart. Keep it below the level of the heart.
  • Never try to suck the venom out by your mouth.
  • Avoid drinking alcohol or caffeine.
  • Avoid using a pump suction device. Previously these devices were thought to benefit by pumping out the snake venom; however, they are believed to cause more harm than good.

Treatment For Snake Bite

A snake bite can be life threatening. The important thing to do in a situation like this is to get the victim immediately to emergency care as soon as possible. The doctor will assess the patient to decide on the right course of treatment. The severity of the condition depends on the location of the snake bite, victim’s age and health. If the snake bite is not serious, then the doctor will just clean the wound and give a tetanus vaccine to the victim.

In case the snake bite is life threatening, then the doctor will administer anti-venom, which is made from the snake venom to neutralize the symptoms. The anti-venom is given intravenously. The earlier the anti-venom is given for a snake bite, the more effective its effect will be.

How To Prevent Yourself From A Snake Bite?

In many cases snake bites can be prevented. Avoid getting close to snakes or touching them when you are in the wild. Refrain from going to areas, which have tall grass and piled leaves. Do not go near or lift woodpiles or rocks. These are some of the common places where snakes like to hide. If you have to work outdoors where snakes are present then wear leather gloves, long boots and long pants. Try not to work outside during warm weather and at night time, as this is when snakes are most active.

To cut down on your risk of getting snakebite, avoid touching any type of snake. If you come across a snake, slowly back away. Majority of the snakes avoid people and bite only when they are surprised or threatened.

What Is The Prognosis For A Snake Bite?

The prognosis depends on the type of the snake and patient’s age and general health; and for this reason, the prognosis of a snake bite differs from person to person. The prognosis in case of a non-venomous snake bite is very good, if the bite area is cleaned thoroughly and treated immediately. In case of a venomous bite, the prognosis depends on how soon the patient receives treatment. The sooner the treatment is started, the better the prognosis. Prognosis is better for healthy adults who have shallow snake bites when compared to snake bites on children and elderly with weakened immune systems and who have had a deep snake bite.

Also Read:

Pramod Kerkar, M.D., FFARCSI, DA
Pramod Kerkar, M.D., FFARCSI, DA
Written, Edited or Reviewed By: Pramod Kerkar, M.D., FFARCSI, DA Pain Assist Inc. This article does not provide medical advice. See disclaimer
Last Modified On:March 11, 2019

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