Snake and Lizard Bites (cont.)
Check Your Symptoms
Poisonous snake or lizard bite
If you were bitten by a snake or lizard that you know or think is poisonous, callor other emergency services immediately. Do not wait for symptoms to develop. Symptoms may progress from mild to severe rapidly.
If you are not sure what type of snake or lizard bit you, take a picture of it. But do not do this if it will delay treatment or put someone at risk for additional bites. Do not waste time or take any risks trying to kill or bring in the snake. Only trap a poisonous snake if the chances are good that it will bite more people if you let it go. It is important to remember that a snake only injects part of its venom with each bite, so it can still hurt you after the first strike. And a dead snake, even one with a severed head, can still bite and release venom by reflex action for up to 90 minutes after it dies.
Medicine (antivenom) to counteract the effects of the poison can save a limb or your life. Antivenom is given as soon as a doctor determines it is needed, usually within the first 4 hours after the snakebite. Antivenom may be effective up to 2 weeks or more after a snakebite.
Immediate home treatment
Immediate home treatment should not delay transport for emergency evaluation.
- If you think the snake bite is an emergency, call .
- Remain calm and try to rest quietly.
- If you are not sure what type of snake or lizard bit you, call a Poison Control Center immediately to help identify the snake or lizard and find out what to do next.
- Remove any jewelry. The limbs might swell, making it more difficult to remove the jewelry after swelling begins.
- Use a pen to mark the edge of the swelling around the bite every 15 minutes. This will help your doctor estimate how the venom is moving in your body.
Avoid these treatment measures
Avoid doing anything that might cause more problems with the snake or lizard bite.
- Do not cut the bite open.
- Do not suck on the bite wound or use any kind of extraction device.
- Do not use a constriction band, such as a tourniquet or bandage, on a bite.
- Do not soak your hand or foot in ice water or pack your arm or leg in ice. This can increase damage to the skin and cause a cold-induced injury, such as frostbite.
- Do not raise the bitten arm or leg above your head. This may increase the flow of venom into the bloodstream.
- Do not drink alcohol.
- Do not give any prescription or nonprescription medicines after a poisonous snake or lizard bite unless your doctor tells you to. Some medicines, such as aspirin, ibuprofen, or naproxen, may cause increased bleeding.
Nonpoisonous snake or lizard bite
If you are certain the snake or lizard was not poisonous, use home treatment measures to reduce symptoms and prevent infection.
- Use direct pressure to stop any bleeding. See how to stop bleeding.
- Look at the wound to make sure a snake or lizard tooth is not in the wound. If you can see a tooth, remove it with tweezers, taking care to not push it farther into the wound.
- Clean the bite as soon as possible to reduce the chance of infection, scarring, and tattooing of the skin from dirt left in the wound. Wash the wound for 5 minutes with large amounts of warm water and soap (mild dishwashing soap, such as Ivory, works well). See how to clean a wound.
- Do not use rubbing alcohol, hydrogen peroxide, iodine, or Mercurochrome, which can harm the tissue and slow wound healing.
- Soak the wound in warm water for 20 minutes, 2 to 4 times a day, for the next 4 to 5 days. The warmth from the water will increase the blood flow to the area, which helps reduce the chance of infection.
- Puncture wounds usually heal well and may not need a bandage. You may want to use a bandage if you think the bite will get dirty or irritated.
- Clean the wound thoroughly before putting the bandage on it.
- Apply a clean bandage when it gets wet or soiled. If a bandage is stuck to a scab, soak it in warm water to soften the scab and make the bandage easier to remove.
- If available, use a nonstick dressing. There are many bandage products available.
- Be sure to read the product label for correct use.
- Use of an antibiotic ointment has not been shown to affect healing. If you choose to use an antibiotic ointment, such as polymyxin B sulfate (for example, Polysporin) or bacitracin, apply the ointment lightly to the wound. The ointment will keep the bandage from sticking to the wound. If a skin rash or itching under the bandage develops, stop using the ointment. The rash may be caused by an allergic reaction to the ointment.
- Determine whether you need a tetanus shot.
- An ice or cold pack may help reduce swelling and bruising. Never apply ice directly to a wound or the skin. This could cause tissue damage.
Medicine you can buy without a prescription
| Try a nonprescription medicine to help treat your fever or pain:|
- Acetaminophen, such as Tylenol
- Do not use a nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug, such as Advil, Motrin, Aleve, or aspirin.
| Be sure to follow these safety tips when you use a nonprescription medicine:|
- Carefully read and follow all directions on the medicine bottle and box.
- Do not take more than the recommended dose.
- Do not take a medicine if you have had an allergic reaction to it in the past.
- If you have been told to avoid a medicine, call your doctor before you take it.
- If you are or could be pregnant, do not take any medicine other than acetaminophen unless your doctor has told you to.
For more information on cuts, scrapes, or puncture wounds, see the topics Cuts, Scrapes, or Puncture Wounds.
Symptoms to watch for during home treatment
Call your doctor if any of the following occur during home treatment: