How to Treat a Snakebite

In the event that your child is bitten by a snake, learn how to identify the reaction to get medical treatment immediately.

In the U.S., most snakes are not poisonous, but there are four poisonous species: rattlesnakes, copperheads, coral snakes, and water moccasins (cottonmouths). Seek immediate medical attention for snakebites because your child may need antivenom serum. In rare cases, children have a life-threatening reaction to the venom or an allergic reaction to the bite.

Do not let your child go barefoot in areas where there are snakes, which are often found sunning on warm rocks, near water, under large rocks, or in tall grass. Your child should wear sturdy footwear that can protect from bites. Teach your child not to play with snakes and to leave the area if one is discovered.

The Four Types of Poisonous Snakes

Rattlesnake - found throughout the U.S. and recognized by the rattling sound from its tail.

Coral Snake - found in the southeastern U.S., Texas, and Arizona; it has bright red, yellow, and black ring markings along the body.

Copperhead - found throughout the eastern and central U.S.; it is tan or brown with darker, hourglass-shaped bands.

Water Moccasin (cottonmouth) - found near water in the southeastern U.S.; it has large, triangular heads and may be a solid dark color or have dark cross bands.

Symptoms and Signs of Snake Bites

  • One or two puncture wounds with a gap of a few millimeters.
  • Area swelling that occurs within 30 minutes that may spread gradually.
  • Skin that is tender to the touch and bluish in color.

Treatment for Snake Bites

Call 911 or contact your doctor immediately, as your child will need hospitalization. Identify the snake if you can to provide information for medical personnel. If you try to capture or kill the snake, be careful to avoid more bites. Try to remain calm so your child will not be anxious. Keep your child as still as possible. Movement will cause toxins to spread more quickly throughout his body.

If the bite is on the hand, foot, arm, or leg, lower it below heart level to help slow the spread of toxin. Clean the wound with soap and water. Keep the bite site cool with compresses or an ice pack wrapped in a towel. Do not try to cut or squeeze the bite, or suck the poison out with your mouth. Do not use a tourniquet above the bite because this could stop the flow of blood to the affected body part.

The severity of the snakebite depends on the amount of venom injected, your child's weight, and your child's age. In about 30 percent of cases of poisonous snakebite, no venom is injected, but if your child develops serious symptoms, he should be given antivenom within 4 hours of the bite. In rare cases, snakes can transmit tetanus, so your child may also get a tetanus vaccination if his skin was broken.

Copyright © 2012 Meredith Corporation.

All content on this Web site, including medical opinion and any other health-related information, is for informational purposes only and should not be considered to be a specific diagnosis or treatment plan for any individual situation. Use of this site and the information contained herein does not create a doctor-patient relationship. Always seek the direct advice of your own doctor in connection with any questions or issues you may have regarding your own health or the health of others.

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