How to Properly Prevent and Treat Snake Bites

Snakes are a common fear among millions of people across the globe and logically so. Snake bites can be deadly. While not all snake bites are harmful to humans, some are, and those that are can have a wide variety of terrible symptoms.

It is extremely important to react quickly to snake bites, as they can start to negatively impact the body in a matter of minutes.

The first step is to contact emergency medical services if they can be reached. It cell phone service is available request help through 911. If the bite occurs in a remote area, getting the snake bite patient to medical care quickly is vital.

North America is home to several different species of venomous snakes. The most common is the rattlesnake. Antivenin is utilized to treat bites, but it must be used as early as possible.

Western diamondback rattlesnake (crotalus atrox)
Tom Walker / Photographer's Choice / Getty Images


Below are several steps for dealing with a snake bite after it occurs:

  1. First, get away from the snake.
  2. If bitten, call 911 immediately! Waiting until the pain occurs may lead to permanent tissue damage. (Remember that calling 911 on a cell phone is different than a regular phone.)
  3. Do not elevate the affected area! Keep the bite below the level of the heart.
  4. Wash the area with warm water and soap.
  5. Remove constricting clothing and jewelry from the extremity. The area may swell and constricting items can cause additional complications and even tissue death.
  6. If the snake is an elapid species (coral snakes and cobras), wrap the extremity with an elastic pressure bandage. Start from the point closest to the heart and wrap towards the fingers or toes. Continue to keep the bite lower than the heart.
  7. Follow the basics of first aid while waiting for responders to arrive. Be especially concerned about the potential for shock.

Additional Tips

  • Do not cut into the skin and use suction. Those snake bite kits from the drug store don't work. Cutting into the wound will just increase your risk of other complications like infections.
  • If the snake is dead, bringing it to the hospital with you is appropriate. Be careful, though, dead snakes can reflexively bite for up to an hour.
  • In today's digital world, pictures are easy to get. A quick picture of the snake—even with a cell phone—will help medical crews identify the type of snake and therefore the best treatment route. For instances, rattlesnakes are pit vipers, identified by dents in the side of their heads that look like ears. Coral snakes are small with bands of red bordered by pale yellow or white. Cobras have hoods that spread behind their heads.
  • While helpful, it's not always important to identify the snake that bit you; medical crews in areas prone to snake bites can often identify the animal just from the wound. Pit vipers have two fangs and the bite often has two small holes. Coral snakes have small mouths full of teeth with rows of small puncture wounds.


The best way to deal with a snake bite is to prevent it altogether by avoiding snakes, following universal precautions and wearing personal protective equipment if you have to be near snakes. As always, an ounce of prevention is worth a ton of first aid when it comes to snake bites:

  • Wear long pants and boots taller than the ankle.
  • Avoid tall brush and deep, dark crevices.
  • Make plenty of noise and vibration while walking.
  • Do not approach snakes, avoid them.
  • Do not expect rattlesnakes to make any noises.
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By Rod Brouhard, EMT-P
Rod Brouhard is an emergency medical technician paramedic (EMT-P), journalist, educator, and advocate for emergency medical service providers and patients.