Snake bites - Treatment 

Treating snake bites 

A green mamba uses its venom to kill or immobilise prey, but it may also bite in self-defence if provoked 

First aid abroad

If you are travelling to an area where there is a risk of being bitten by a snake, make sure you know how to contact emergency medical services in that country.

When travelling abroad, carry a first aid kit that contains medications, such as painkillers, antacids (for indigestion) and rehydration sachets (for diarrhoea). It should also include plasters, non-adherent dressings and bandages, insect repellent and sun cream.

Read more health advice while travelling abroad

Shock

Someone who has been bitten by a snake may go into shock. Shock is a life-threatening condition that occurs when there is an insufficient supply of oxygen to the body.

Shock should always be treated as a medical emergency and you should dial 999 to request an ambulance immediately.

Symptoms of shock include:

  • faintness or collapsing
  • pale, cold, clammy skin
  • sweating 
  • rapid, shallow breathing
  • weakness and dizziness
  • blindness
  • feeling sick and possibly vomiting

After calling an ambulance, lie the person down and raise and support their legs. Use a coat or blanket to keep them warm.

Read more about how to treat shock.

There are a number of misconceptions about what to do immediately after being bitten by a snake. For example, you should never try to suck or cut the venom out.

Follow the advice below if you or a companion is bitten by a snake.

Immediate action

  • Remain calm and do not panic. Snake bites, particularly those that occur in the UK, are not usually serious and rarely deadly
  • Try to remember the snake's shape, size and colour
  • Keep the part of your body that has been bitten as still as possible to prevent the venom spreading around your body. You may want to secure the bitten body part with a sling (a supportive bandage) or a splint (a rigid support that helps keep the body part stable). However, do not make the sling or splint so tight that it restricts your blood flow
  • Remove any jewellery or watches from the bitten limb because they could cut into your skin if the limb swells
  • Do not attempt to remove any clothing, such as trousers
  • Seek immediate medical attention (see below)

What you should not do

If you or someone you are with is bitten by a snake you should not:

  • try to suck the venom out of the bite
  • try to cut the venom out of the bite 
  • rub anything into the wound
  • put anything around the bitten limb to stop the spread of venom, such as a tourniquet or ligature  it will not help and can cause swelling, even if no venom has been released by the snake; it could also damage the limb, leading to the need for amputation
  • try to catch or kill the snake

Medical attention

If you are bitten by a snake you should visit your nearest accident and emergency (A&E) department, or dial 999 to request an ambulance if it is a medical emergency.

If a snake bites you while you are abroad, you should assume it is a medical emergency and contact the relevant emergency medical services.

In most cases, following a bite, you will need to stay in hospital for a short period. This is so that staff can keep you under observation in case you develop symptoms that suggest venom has been injected.

As a precaution, you may be asked to stay in hospital for at least 24 hours so your blood pressure and general health can be monitored.

Anti-venom medications are antidotes to snake venom and can be used to treat more severe snake bites.

Anti-venoms

Anti-venoms are produced by injecting a small, non-life-threatening amount of snake venom into a large animal, usually a horse.

The animal's immune system (natural defence system) produces antibodies. Antibodies are proteins that stick onto toxins and are capable of neutralising their effects. The antibodies are then taken from the animal, purified and stored until needed.

In some people, anti-venoms can trigger a severe allergic reaction called anaphylaxis, so it is important you are closely monitored after receiving your first dose.

Due to the risk of anaphylaxis, anti-venom should only be given by a qualified healthcare professional.

In cases where a snake bite is severe, and your blood pressure has fallen significantly, you may need intravenous fluids (into a vein in your arm). You may also need a blood transfusion if you have lost a lot of blood.

Recovery

Recovery times for snake bites can vary depending on the species of snake involved.

In most cases, children bitten by an adder will make a full recovery in 1-3 weeks. Adults usually take more than three weeks to recover fully, with a quarter taking between 1-9 months.

During the recovery period, you may experience episodes of pain and swelling in the area of your body that has been bitten. These symptoms can usually be controlled by taking over-the-counter painkillers, such as paracetamol.




Page last reviewed: 26/07/2012

Next review due: 26/07/2014

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