Snake Bite Treatment

The most important thing to do for a snake bite is to get emergency medical help as soon as possible. A doctor will evaluate the victim to decide on a specific course of treatment.

In some cases, a bite from a venomous snake is not life-threatening. The severity depends on the location of the bite and the age and health of the victim.

If the situation is life threatening, the doctor may administer antivenom. This is a substance created with snake venom to counter the snake bite symptoms. It’s injected into the victim. The sooner the antivenom is used, the more effective it will be.

The main goal is to administer the correct antivenom as soon as possible. Knowing the size, color and shape of the snake can help determine the best treatment for a particular bite.

It helps if the person knows which species of snake bit them, as different snake bites require different types of antivenom.

Antivenoms are made by immunizing a horse or sheep with the venom of a particular snake, then processing the animal’s blood serum (the watery part of the blood), which will contain antibodies capable of neutralizing the effects of venom.

Monospecific antivenoms treat the bite of a specific type of snake, while polyspecific antivenoms can treat bites from a number of snakes found in a particular geographic region.

Treatment of non-venomous snake bite

The treatment of non-venomous snake bites includes local wound care at the site of the bite, removing snake teeth if left in the bite site, attending to any trauma at the bite site, and a tetanus booster if needed. Some wounds may become infected and require additional treatment with antibiotics.

Treatment of venomous snakebite

After a snake bites, there are two phases of treatment.

  1. The emergency treatment is provided on-site and during transport to an appropriate health care facility.

  2. The health care facility stabilizes the patient, administers antivenin if deemed necessary, and provides supportive treatment.

Phase one of snakebite treatment

Many past home remedies, snakebite kits and other first aid treatment methods have been shown to make the effects of the snakebite worse.

Consequently, the CDC has issued guidelines to use after the threat of additional bites to the patient or others is eliminated, about what to DO and what NOT TO DO if a snakebite occurs.

The following are CDC recommendations:

  • Seek medical attention as soon as possible (dial your call local Emergency Medical Services)
  • Try to remember the color and shape of the snake, which can help with identification and treatment of snake venom in the snakebite.
  • Keep still and calm. Moving around will make venom spread faster through the body.
  • Inform your supervisor (if the bite occurs at work).
  • Apply first aid if you cannot get to the hospital right away.
  • Lay or sit down with the bite below the level of the heart in order to slow the spread of venom through the bloodstream.
  • Wash the bite with soap and water.
  • Cover the bite with a clean, loose-fitting dry dressing.
  • Remove tight clothing or jewelry/watches because the area around the bite is likely to swell


Do NOT do any of the following:

  • Do not pick up the snake or try to trap it.
  • Do not wait for symptoms to appear if bitten, rather seek immediate medical attention.
  • Do not apply a tourniquet.
  • Do not slash the wound with a knife.
  • Do not suck out the venom.
  • Do not use a suction device to remove venom
  • Do not apply ice or immerse the wound in water.
  • Do not drink alcohol as a painkiller.
  • Do not give a person medication unless a healthcare professional gives this instruction
  • Do not drink caffeinated beverages.

Not included in the CDC recommendation is the bite of the Australian elapid snake, also termed a sea snake, which is emergently treated with a pressure bandage at the bite site with splinting and extremity immobilization. Others suggest no use of electric shocks for any snakebite.

Phase two of snakebite treatment

The second phase of treatment consists of stabilization and supportive care, and when medically indicated, administration of antitoxin (antivenin) specific for the snake species and a tetanus booster vaccine.

What can be expected after treatment for a snake bite?

In most cases, it is necessary to remain in the hospital for up to 24 hours in order to monitor blood pressure and overall health. If blood pressure has fallen, intravenous fluids (through a needle in the arm) may be necessary. If there has been a great loss of blood, a blood transfusion may be needed.

A period of monitoring is also necessary because some people can develop a severe allergic reaction after receiving antivenom. Because of this risk, antivenom should be given only by a trained medical professional.

The time required for complete recovery will depend on the kind of snake bite. In most cases, children can recover from the bite of an adder in one to two weeks. Most adults will take more than three weeks for full recovery but 25% will need one to nine months.

Pain and swelling are common long-lasting effects in the area of the body where the bite occurred.

Outlook for a snake bite

The outlook for a person with a snake bite is highly variable. For a non-venomous snake bite, the outlook is excellent if the wound is cleaned and treated promptly. For a venomous bite, the outlook is good if the victim receives emergency care very soon after the bite has occurred. Healthy adults with shallow bites have a better outlook than children and those with weakened immune systems who have received deep bites.