Welcome to Emergency Essentials!

Catalog Request

How to Treat a Snake Bite


How to Avoid and Treat Snake Bites

Would you know what to do if you were bitten by a snake?

According to the CDC, about 8,000 snake bites (venomous and non-venomous) happen in the United States each year. Even a bite from a so-called "harmless" snake can cause infection or allergic reaction in some people. However, with the correct treatment or antivenin (an antitoxin that rids the human body of animal or insect venom), severe illness and/or death can be prevented.

Here are tips for avoiding, recognizing, and treating both venomous and non-venomous snake bites when professional medical attention is delayed or completely out of reach.

Avoiding snake bites

According to the snake experts from Utah’s Reptile Rescue Service, most snake bites happen because a person tries to harass or kill a snake. Occasionally, hikers or joggers are bitten because snakes can hide very well on open trails and are hard to see in dense grass.

The best way to avoid a snake bite is to be aware of your surroundings. When you’re outdoors, make sure you’re wearing closed-toed shoes and are careful of where you put your feet before you sit down on the ground, rocks, or logs. Always tap rocks with a long stick and listen for a rattle before sitting down. Snakes like to hide in rock retaining walls. If you hear a rattle, try not to panic or jump. Locate the source before you move, and warn others who are with you.

Try to avoid snakes at all cost—even if they’re dead. According to Utah’s Reptile Rescue Service, most people don’t realize that once you kill a snake it’s still alive and can strike for 24 hours. So if you see a “dead” snake in the road and you bend over to take a look at it, there’s a possibility you could still get bitten — which has happened in many cases.

Recognizing Venomous Snake Bites

If you are bitten by a snake, but aren’t sure if the snake is poisonous watch out for these common symptoms of venomous snake bites.

However, keep in mind that each person may experience symptoms differently, and some people may not even display symptoms for a long period of time. In addition, different snakes have different types of venom, so the symptoms may differ according to the type of venom circulating through the person’s body.

Symptoms may include:

• Bloody wound discharge

• Fang (puncture) marks in the skin and swelling at the site of the bite

• Severe localized pain

• Discoloration, such as redness and bruising

• Enlarged lymph nodes in the area affected

• Diarrhea

• Burning

• Convulsions

• Fainting

• Dizziness

• Weakness

• Blurred vision

• Excessive sweating

• Fever

• Increased thirst

• Loss of muscle coordination

• Nausea and vomiting

• Numbness and tingling, especially in the mouth

• Rapid pulse

• Altered mental state

• Shock

• Paralysis

• Difficulty breathing


Treating Snake Bites

For maximum safety, treat all snake bites as venomous. Get to the emergency room as quickly as possible, especially if you’re unsure of the type of snake responsible for the bite.

Treatment for venomous bites

If you are bitten by a venomous snake, try to remember as many details about the snake as possible so you can describe it to emergency personnel. Remember these tips for identifying poisonous snakes so you know what to look for. If possible, without putting yourself or someone else in danger, take a picture. Call 9-1-1 immediately or get the person to an emergency room as quickly as possible. Time is of the essence.

While waiting for medical help:

  • Move the person beyond striking distance of the snake.
  • Have the person lie down with the wound below the heart.
  • Keep the person still to prevent venom from spreading.
  • Remove restrictive clothing, rings, and jewelry; the bite can cause swelling.
  • Cover the wound with a loose, sterile dressing if possible.
  • Get to a hospital as quickly as possible.


Treatment for non-venomous bites

If you are 100% sure the snake that bit you is non-venomous, treat it like a puncture wound. If possible get a good look at the snake or take a picture for later verification.

  • Do not try to pick up or trap the snake.
  • If the wound is bleeding, apply firm direct pressure with sterile gauze/clean cloth until it stops.
  • Rinse the wound under clean water for several minutes, and then wash the area with mild soap and water.
  • Remove restrictive clothing, rings, and jewelry; the bite can cause swelling.
  • Apply a triple antibiotic cream and cover with a bandage or other dressing.
  • Keep the wound clean and dry.

Even if you know the snake bite is non-venomous, you should still seek treatment from medical professionals.


If you ever have to deal with a snake bite, DO NOT:

  • Try to pick up the snake or try to trap it.
  • Cut a bite wound.
  • Attempt to suck out venom (the only exception would be if you have a kit for removing venom and you’re too far away from medical treatment).
  • Apply tourniquet, ice or water.
  • Give the person alcohol or caffeinated drinks.

Have you ever encountered a snake? What other tips would you give to avoid snake bites?




Rick Nielsen became an EMT in 1996, and currently works as an Advanced EMT. He spent several years as an EMT/Firefighter and CERT instructor in Pleasant Grove, UT. He is also a First Aid and BLS (Basic Life Support) instructor. He’s worked at Timpanogos hospital for 16 years, spending several years working in the Emergency Room. He currently works in the ICU as a Telemetry Technician. He loves sharing his experience and knowledge of first aid and emergency preparedness with others. 






6 thoughts on “How to Treat a Snake Bite”

  • Randy Welch

    do not cut and suck ? suppose you are 2 day from nearest hospital and hunting ? Then what if you don't have a snake bite kit.

    • beprepared

      Randy, that's a great question. I can ask Rick for some additional clarification on this type of situation. Every source I have seen discourages the "cut and suck" method. It has not proven effective, and can lead to additional tissue damage or infection.
      I'll let you know what I hear back from Rick.

  • Rick Nielsen

    Randy, this is a really good question. In the past, many of us learned through Boy Scouts and other first aid training, that using a tourniquet above the wound and making a cut and sucking out the venom was the way to treat a snake bite.

    However, recent medical studies indicate that this is no longer recommended. When a person is bitten by a snake, the venom gets into the bloodstream very quickly, and when you try to suck the venom out, you mostly get blood because the venom has already traveled throughout the bloodstream. This not only exposes you to a blood born pathogen, but because the mouth is so full of bacteria you risk causing an infection in the person that was bitten.

    If you have a venom extractor kit, you can try and use it, but the likelihood of getting any venom is slim. Also, if you snake bit kit recommends cutting the person, get rid of it because that is no longer the thing to do.

    The best thing is to keep the person calm, keep the extremity below the heart, and get help as quickly as possible. If you are camping or hunting, you need to get somewhere where you can call for help immediately.

    Hope this helps answer your question.

  • Sandy

    One way to avoid snake bite when hiking is to take a long stick and beat the ground ahead of you. When my kids were young, my mother and I took them hiking in Mt. Hood National Forest. We were demonstrating this when a snake went crawling away. A very successful demonstration. :)

  • Bob

    I worked in the ER and ICU in Az. for many years. Have seen over 50 cases of rattle snake bite. Well over 75% were playing with or bothering the snake, Just walk away and leave it alone is the best advice. Of the 75% most involved being impaired with drugs or alcohol. Some of the bites are dry with no venom. Stay calm. Keep the bite below the heart. Get to the ER ASAP. No matter what the ER have the expertise, medication, anti-venom to treat the bite. No cuts or tourniquets. They increase the chances of loosing an arm or leg. Herbal treatment does not work either.

  • Donna

    Sucking out venom is always a bad idea. If the person sucking has any cut, cavity in a tooth, or bleeding gum, any venom in the mouth can then get into that person's blood stream. This would lead to two people needing treatment.

Leave a Reply
Back to Top