Snake Bites

Also known as: venomous and nonvenomous snake bites.

What are snake bites?

Snakes usually bite when they feel threatened and may be venomous (poisonous) or non-venomous. The most common venomous snakes (about 10%) in the USA include rattlesnakes, copperheads, water moccasin (or cottonmouth). These account for more than 95% of all venomous snake bites and coral snakes. Not all venomous snake bites result in the poison being injected in the child’s body (this is called a “dry bite”). Most snake bites in the USA occur between April and October.

What causes snake bites?

Most snakes only bite if they feel cornered, or stumbling across by accident.

What are the signs/symptoms of snake bites?

Symptoms vary depending on the type of snake, whether venom has been injected (or not) and the size and health of the child. Local signs/symptoms include bite marks in the skin, redness, severe pain, swelling and a warm area of skin, numbness and enlarged lymph nodes draining the bite site.

Typical general symptoms of venomous snake bites include sweating, fever, trouble breathing and/or swallowing, nausea and vomiting, blurred vision, weakness/dizziness, confusion and anxiety.

What are snake bite care options?

Prevention is important, and in areas when venomous snakes may be found, children should be taught to not get close to any snake, stay out of tall grass, and should wear thick leather boots for protection.
All snake bites should be considered “poisonous” and children who are bitten should be taken to the nearest hospital’s Emergency Department (or call 911) as soon as possible.

When a child is bitten, family members should remain calm, lie the child down and encourage the child to move as little as possible, try and keep the bite area lower than the child’s heart, mark the bite site area with a circle, remove all tight rings or clothing, if possible wash the site with water and soap, do not give the child water or food, try to remember the physical characteristics of the snake, and the time of the bite (do not try to suck out the poison and do not put a tourniquet around the bite site).

Once in a Hospital, a physician will undertake the appropriate treatments required.
Snake bites may give rise to few symptoms but may also result in a life- threatening situation.

Reviewed by: Jack Wolfsdorf, MD, FAAP

This page was last updated on: October 15, 2019 12:58 PM