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Snakebites are usually harmless, but a few can be deadly. Even nonpoisonous bites may sometimes cause an infection or allergic reaction. That’s why prompt treatment is crucial.

When to go to the emergency department (ED)

Call 911 or emergency services right away for any snakebite. While you wait, these measures can help:

  • Stay calm.

  • Remove rings, watches, and any tight clothing.

  • Keep the bitten body part lower than the heart.

  • Keep the bitten body part as still as possible.

  • Be alert for symptoms of poisoning, such as a purple coloration, swelling, and severe pain near the bite.

What to expect in the ED

Treatment depends on the type of bite and how severe it is.

  • Your injury will be cleaned and inspected for the presence of venom (poison).

  • Describe what you remember about the snake that bit you, especially the shape of the eyes.

  • You may be given antivenin. This substance reverses the effects of a snake’s poison. Because antivenin can cause allergic reactions, you may have a skin test first.

  • You may be given a tetanus shot if you haven’t had one in the last 5 years.

  • You may be admitted to the hospital.

What not to do when bitten

If you or someone you know is bitten by a snake:

  • DO NOT cut into the bite with a knife or razor.

  • DO NOT try to suction the venom by mouth.

  • DO NOT put ice or a cold compress on the bite.

  • DO NOT apply a tight bandage (tourniquet).


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