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 immediately. Do not wait for symptoms to develop.
If you are not sure what type of snake or lizard bit you, call the Poison Control Center immediately 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 is 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 begins within minutes, and then swelling starts spreading out from the bite.
Things that affect the severity of a poisonous snake or lizard bite include the:
If you do not develop symptoms within 8 to 12 hours, it is possible 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 is important to remember that a snake only injects part of its venom with each bite, so it 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 do not develop symptoms within 8 hours, continue to watch for symptoms for 2 weeks or more.
Most snakes and lizards in North America are not poisonous. Bites may be frightening, but most do not 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.
Although most nonpoisonous snakebites can be treated at home, a bite from a large nonpoisonous snake (such as a boa constrictor, python, or 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 develop at the site of the bite.
Check your symptoms to decide if and when you should see a doctor.
If you were bitten by a snake or lizard that you know or think is poisonous, call 911 or other emergency services immediately. Do not wait for symptoms to develop. Symptoms may progress from mild to severe rapidly.
If you are not sure what type of snake or lizard bit you, take a picture of it. But do not do this if it will delay treatment or put someone at risk for more bites. Do not 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 is 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 determines it is needed, usually within the first 4 hours after the snakebite. Antivenom may be effective up to 2 weeks or more after a snakebite.
Immediate home treatment should not delay transport for emergency evaluation.
Avoid doing anything that might cause more problems with the snake or lizard bite.
If you are certain the snake or lizard was not poisonous, use home treatment measures to reduce symptoms and prevent infection.
|Try a nonprescription medicine to help treat your fever or pain:|
|Be sure to follow these safety tips when you use a nonprescription medicine:|
Call your doctor if any of the following occur during home treatment:
Snakebites are more likely to occur in warm-weather months when both snakes and people are more active outdoors. Most snakebites occur on the fingers, hands, and arms when someone is working with or trying to catch a snake. The legs and feet are also common bite sites; these bites usually occur when a person (especially a child or a hiker) accidentally disturbs a snake.
Snakes and lizards are popular exotic pets, so the risk for being bitten has increased.
Many snake and lizard bites can be prevented.
If you are often in an area where there are poisonous snakes, consider carrying a first aid kit. Carry a cellular phone, if you have one, to call for help if you are bitten.
To prepare for your appointment, see the topic Making the Most of Your Appointment.
You can help your doctor diagnose and treat your condition by being prepared to answer the following questions:
|Primary Medical Reviewer||William H. Blahd, Jr., MD, FACEP - Emergency Medicine|
|Specialist Medical Reviewer||Sean P. Bush, MD, FACEP - Emergency Medicine, Envenomation Specialist|
|Last Revised||June 6, 2012|
Last Revised: June 6, 2012
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