Snake bites

Snake Bite Prevention

If you are going to be outside in places where venomous snakes live, it’s a good idea to take some precautions. These include:

  • Wear boots and long pants when hiking.
  • Stay on trails.
  • Stay away from long grasses and brush where snakes like to hide.
  • Never touch or disturb a snake.
  • Look carefully before disturbing rocks or other debris.
  • Always hike with someone.

In addition, keep pets leashed while on walks and teach kids to always leave snakes alone.

Snake bites

Common Treatment Misconceptions

You may have heard of some non-medical ways to treat snake bites. However, most often, non-medical treatment methods are unsafe. 

Avoid the following:

  • Never try to kill, trap, or handle the snake.
  • Get help immediately; don’t wait for symptoms.
  • Do not apply a tourniquet.
  • Do not cut the wound.
  • Do not suck out the venom.
  • Do not apply ice or soak the wound.
  • Do not drink alcohol.
  • Do not take pain relievers, including ibuprofen, aspirin, or naproxen.
  • Do not use electric shock therapy or other folk methods.

Remember, snake bites—even dry bites—should always be treated as medical emergencies. That means you should never attempt to treat them on your own.

Snake bites

Snake Bite Treatment

If a snake bites you, treat the bite as though it could be venomous and seek medical attention right away. However, never attempt to drive yourself to the hospital, as you could become dizzy or lose consciousness.

While you wait for medical assistance to arrive, take the following steps:

  • If possible, have someone take a photo of the snake from a safe distance
  • Stay calm
  • Sit or lie down
  • Remove rings and other items that may get stuck if you swell
  • Wash the wound with soap and water
  • Cover the bite with a bandage

In addition, you may want to mark the edge of the swelling so that you can see how or if the swelling increases over time. 

For venomous snake bites, a healthcare provider will give you antivenom by injection or by intravenous (IV) infusion. Hospital staff will evaluate your wound and thoroughly clean it for dry bites. Often, no further treatment is required. 

Snake bites

Diagnosing Snake Bites

It is crucial to identify what type of snake bite you have to receive proper treatment. Therefore, a healthcare provider will evaluate your symptoms and injury, including venom, if present, to determine a course of care.


To diagnose venomous snake bites, a healthcare provider will examine your injury and assess the symptoms you are experiencing.

In addition, they may run a blood test called a 20 Minute Whole Blood Clotting Test (20WBCT). This test evaluates whether your blood clots as expected. If not, it indicates you need antivenom.

An antibody test may determine the type of venom in someone’s body.11 However, since the test can take several hours, this is most often done after you’ve received treatment.

Keep any clothing that may have a snake’s venom on it since it may help healthcare providers identify the type of snake that bit you.


Non-venomous snake bites are known as “dry bites.” While these bites can be extremely painful, once a healthcare provider evaluates them, they do not require antivenom.

If you are experiencing only localized symptoms, you may not need further tests. However, if there is any doubt, you may receive diagnostic tests noted above to rule out a venomous snake bite. 

Snake bites

Coral Snakes

Coral snake slithers in the grass

Coral snakes live in the southern U.S. They are often confused with non-venomous milk snakes because they look similar. Coral snakes can be up to 3-feet long and have red, yellow, and black bands along the body.

Symptom of coral snake bites include:

  • Mild pain
  • Weakness
  • Numbness and tingling
  • Increased salivation
  • Drooling
  • Slurred speech
  • Nausea and vomiting
Snake bites

Water Moccasins

Water moccasin lies coiled on forest floor

The water moccasin is also called a cottonmouth snake. It is found in the southeast and the south-central U.S. They may be up to 6-feet long and have thick bodies. They have a triangular head and are dark brown to black.

Like other venomous snake bites, water moccasin bite symptoms include:

  • Severe, immediate pain
  • Swelling
  • Skin discoloration
  • Rapid breathing
  • Heart rate changes
  • Metallic, rubbery, or minty taste
  • Numbness or tingling
  • Lymph node swelling
  • Shock
Snake bites


Eastern diamondback rattlesnake on sand, coils and lifts its head

Rattlesnakes are located all over the U.S., but they are prominently found in the southwest. They have large bodies and triangle-shaped heads. Their most distinctive feature is their tail, which contains a “rattle,” a series of scales that rattle when the snake shakes its tail. They range in size from 1- to 8-feet long.

Rattlesnake bite symptoms are the same as other venomous snake bite symptoms and include:

  • Severe pain
  • Swelling
  • Bruising
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Heart rhythm changes
  • Metallic, rubbery, or minty taste
  • Numbness or tingling
  • Lymph node swelling
  • Shock
Snake bites


Copperhead snake coiled up on rocks

Copperhead snakes are venomous and live in much of the U.S., primarily along the east coast and as far west as Texas. They are copper-tan in color and range from 2- to 4-feet long.

In addition to general symptoms, copperhead bites produce other notable symptoms, appearing minutes to hours after a bite. These include:

  • Pain
  • Rapid swelling
  • Bruising
  • Trouble breathing
  • Heart rhythm changes
  • Metallic, rubbery, or minty taste
  • Numbness or tingling sensation
  • Lymph node swelling
  • Shock
Snake bites

Symptoms of snake bite

Snake bite symptoms may vary depending on what type of snake bit you. However, some general symptoms accompany many snake bites.

General Symptoms

Snake bites can result in some common, general symptoms, including:

  • Puncture wounds from the bite
  • Swelling, pain, or bruising
  • Redness or darkening skin color
  • Swollen lymph nodes
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Sweating, fever, or chills
  • Weakness, dizziness, or fainting
  • Numbness
  • Trouble breathing
  • Confusion

Just as a person may be allergic to insect bites and stings, some people may also have an allergy to snake bites and venom. Keep an eye out for allergy symptoms, especially severe allergic reactions, like anaphylaxis.

Snake bites

Snake Bites

A bite from a venomous snake is called “envenomation.” These snake bites occur 7,000 to 8,000 times a year in the U.S. Of those, around five people will die from venomous snake bites.

It’s critical to get immediate medical attention after a venomous snake bite. Call 911 or head to the nearest emergency room where hospital staff will administer antivenom. The sooner you receive this medicine, the less likely you will experience irreversible damage from the snake’s venom.

This article explains snake bite symptoms, diagnosis, treatment, and prevention.

A cobra rears up to strike a person's leg