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A bite from a poisonous (venomous) snake or lizard requires emergency care. If you have been bitten by a snake or lizard that you know or think might be poisonous, call 911 or other emergency services right away. Don't wait for symptoms to develop.
If you aren't sure what type of snake or lizard bit you, call the Poison Control Center right away to help identify the snake or lizard and find out what to do next. Medicine to counteract the effects of the poison (antivenom) can save a limb or your life.
It's important to stay calm.
Poisonous snakes or lizards found in North America include:
Maine, Alaska, and Hawaii are the only states that don't have at least one poisonous snake species in the wild.
Symptoms of a pit viper snakebite often appear from minutes to hours after a bite. Severe burning pain at the site usually starts within minutes. Then swelling starts spreading out from the bite.
Several things affect how severe a poisonous snake or lizard bite will be. They include:
If you don't have symptoms within 8 to 12 hours, it may be that no venom was injected. This is called a dry bite. At least 25%, and perhaps up to 50%, of bites are dry. If poison is released in the bite, about 35% of the bites have mild injections of poison (envenomations), 25% are moderate, and 10% to 15% are severe.
It's important to remember that a snake only injects part of its venom with each bite. So a snake is still dangerous after the first strike. A bite from a young snake can be serious. 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. Even if you don't have symptoms within 8 hours, keep watching for symptoms for 2 weeks or more.
Most snakes and lizards in North America aren't poisonous. Bites may be scary, but most don't cause serious health problems. A bite from a small nonpoisonous snake might leave teeth marks, a minor scrape, or a puncture wound without other symptoms. Home treatment often relieves symptoms and helps prevent infection.
Most nonpoisonous snakebites can be treated at home. But a bite from a large nonpoisonous snake (such as a boa constrictor, a python, or an anaconda) can be more serious. In North America, these snakes are found in the Florida Everglades and zoos, but they may also be kept as exotic pets. The force of the bite can injure the skin, muscles, joints, or bones. Other problems can occur with a nonpoisonous snake or lizard bite even if the reptile is small. A snake or lizard's tooth may break off in a wound. Or a skin infection may occur at the site of the bite.
Many things can affect how your body responds to a symptom and what kind of care you may need. These include:
You have answered all the questions. Based on your answers, you may be able to take care of this problem at home.
Pain in adults and older children
Pain in children under 3 years
It can be hard to tell how much pain a baby or toddler is in.
Symptoms of infection may include:
Certain health conditions and medicines weaken the immune system's ability to fight off infection and illness. Some examples in adults are:
Symptoms of a severe allergic reaction (anaphylaxis) may include:
A severe reaction can be life-threatening. If you have had a bad allergic reaction to a substance before and are exposed to it again, treat any symptoms as an emergency. Even if the symptoms are mild at first, they may quickly become very severe.
Usually found in dirt and soil, tetanus bacteria typically enter the body through a wound. Wounds may include a bite, a cut, a puncture, a burn, a scrape, insect bites, or any injury that may cause broken skin.
You may need a tetanus shot depending on how dirty the wound is and how long it has been since your last shot.
Shock is a life-threatening condition that may quickly occur after a sudden illness or injury.
Adults and older children often have several symptoms of shock. These include:
Shock is a life-threatening condition that may occur quickly after a sudden illness or injury.
Babies and young children often have several symptoms of shock. These include:
Symptoms of difficulty breathing can range from mild to severe. For example:
Based on your answers, you may need care soon. The problem probably will not get better without medical care.
Based on your answers, you may need care right away. The problem is likely to get worse without medical care.
Based on your answers, you need emergency care.
Call 911 or other emergency services now.
Sometimes people don't want to call 911. They may think that their symptoms aren't serious or that they can just get someone else to drive them. Or they might be concerned about the cost. But based on your answers, the safest and quickest way for you to get the care you need is to call 911 for medical transport to the hospital.
If you were bitten by a snake or lizard that you know or think is poisonous, call 911 or other emergency services right away. Don't wait for symptoms to develop. Symptoms may progress from mild to severe rapidly.
If you aren't sure what type of snake or lizard bit you, take a picture of it. But don't do this if it will delay treatment or put someone at risk for more bites. Don't 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's 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 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 decides it's needed, usually within the first 4 hours after the snakebite. Antivenom may be effective up to 2 weeks or more after a snakebite. Take these steps after a poisonous snake or lizard bite.
But don't delay getting emergency care while you start home treatment.
If you are sure that the snake or lizard wasn't poisonous, you can use home treatment to reduce symptoms and prevent infection.
Clean the bite as soon as you can. This will help reduce the chance of infection, scarring, and tattooing of the skin from dirt left in the wound.
Puncture wounds usually heal well. They may not need a bandage. But you may want to use a bandage if you think that the bite will get dirty or irritated.
An ice or cold pack may help reduce swelling and bruising. Never apply ice directly to a wound or the skin. It could cause tissue damage.
For the next 4 to 5 days, soak the wound in warm water for 20 minutes, 2 to 4 times a day. The warmth from the water will increase the blood flow to the area. This helps reduce the chance of infection.
Call a doctor if any of the following occur during self-care at home:
You can help your doctor diagnose and treat your condition by being prepared for your appointment.
Current as of:
July 11, 2023
Author: Healthwise StaffClinical Review BoardAll Healthwise education is reviewed by a team that includes physicians, nurses, advanced practitioners, registered dieticians, and other healthcare professionals.
Current as of: July 11, 2023
Clinical Review Board
All Healthwise education is reviewed by a team that includes physicians, nurses, advanced practitioners, registered dieticians, and other healthcare professionals.
To learn more about Healthwise, visit Healthwise.org.
© 1995-2023 Healthwise, Incorporated. Healthwise, Healthwise for every health decision, and the Healthwise logo are trademarks of Healthwise, Incorporated.
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