Symptoms and Signs of Snakebite (Snake Bite)

Medical Author: John P. Cunha, DO, FACOEP
Medically Reviewed on 8/6/2021

Doctor's Notes on Snakebite (Snake Bite)

Not all snakes bite, and not all snakes that bite are poisonous. Poisonous snakes inject venom into their victims using modified salivary glands. There are different types of toxins that may be present in a snakebite including cytotoxins that cause local tissue damage, hemotoxins that cause internal bleeding, neurotoxins that affect the nervous system, and cardiotoxins that act directly on the heart.

Snakebite symptoms vary widely depending on the type of snake and the toxin in the venom.

  • Symptoms of snakebites may range from simple puncture wounds to life-threatening illness and death.
  • Localized symptoms of snakebites include painful and tender areas of the skin and tissue around the bite.
  • Bleeding may occur from the bite site or from the mouth, old wounds, or from internal organs.
  • Some poisonous snakebite symptoms can cause vision problems, speaking and breathing trouble, and numbness close to or distant to the bite site.
  • There may be muscle death, which can lead to kidney failure. Some poisonous snakebites lead can paralyze the breathing muscles and lead to death. 

What is the Treatment for Snakebite (Snake Bite)?

Treatment for snake bites depends on if they are venomous or not and what type of snake has bitten the patient. 

If the snake is not venomous, then wounds are treated like other animal bites or lacerations:

  • Clean the wounds with soap and lots of water
  • Apply direct pressure for bleeding
  • Remove rings, watches, or any restrictive clothing
  • Apply topical antibiotics and a sterile dressing
  • Seek medical care if the wound is deep, open, has exposed fat or muscle, has a possible foreign body, or if you cannot stop the bleeding
  • If you are not sure if the snake is venomous or not seek medical care

If the snake is known to be venomous (such as pit vipers or coral snakes) seek medical care right away. Treatment for venomous snake bites may include:

  • Cleaning the wound thoroughly
  • Removing rings, watches, or any restrictive clothing
  • Treating the patient with anti-venom medications which depend on the type of snake
  • Intravenous antibiotics
  • Intravenous fluids for shock 

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Kasper, D.L., et al., eds. Harrison's Principles of Internal Medicine, 19th Ed. United States: McGraw-Hill Education, 2015.