Snake Bites Risk Factors, Complications And Treatment


It is important to always take snake bites seriously. While some bites are dry, which are less harmful and most likely will swell, others are poisonous, which, if not treated carefully and promptly, can cause death. If you have been bitten by a snake, you should always get medical help immediately since it might be the difference between life and death.

Snakes bite either to kill their prey or to defend themselves. Yet, because of the wide variety of snake species, including venomous and non-venomous ones, not all snake bites are made equal.

Various species possess various kinds of venom. The principal categories are:

  • Cytotoxins: Wherever you have been bitten, they cause swelling and tissue damage.
  • Blood vessels are disrupted in haemorrhages.
  • Blood clotting is prevented by anti-clotting medications.
  • Neurotoxins: Damage the neurological system by causing paralysis or other symptoms.
  • Myotoxins: Destroy muscle tissue.

There are two separate kinds of snake bites, despite the seeming simplicity of the answer. The first is more grave than the alternative

Dry bites: These happen when a snake bites without injecting any venom. They are typically observed with non-venomous snakes, as one might anticipate.

Venomous bites: They are significantly riskier. These happen when a snake bites and injects venom. 

When they bite, poisonous snakes intentionally release venom. They control how much venom they release, and 50 to 70 percent of bites from poisonous snakes result in envenomation or poisoning. Unless you are certain that the bite was caused by a non-venomous snake, every snake bite should be handled as a medical emergency, even if it is less severe. A poisonous snake bite might cause significant harm or, in the worst case, death if care is delayed.

In the United States, snake bites are not very common and they typically do not result in death. Yet, the World Health Organization estimates that between 4.5 and 5.4 million snake bites happen annually and that 1.8 to 2.7 million of those result in sickness. According to estimates, snake bites cause at least 81,000 to 138,000 fatalities annually.

Yet, unless one is confident the bite was caused by a non-venomous snake, it is advisable to treat all snake bites as medical emergencies. Any delay in receiving medical attention after being bitten by a poisonous snake may cause death or severe harm.


When attacked, shocked, provoked, cornered, or when they feel threatened, snakes are more prone to bite. When lured by prey like rats, snakes are inclined to visit residential areas. Proper pest treatment may significantly lessen the danger posed by snakes.

Risk Factors

Close to 95% of snake attacks have a place in tropical or underdeveloped nations. South Asian, Southeast Asian, and sub-Saharan African residents are particularly vulnerable to the effects of poisonous snake bites because they frequently lack access to competent medical treatment and antivenoms. Also, disadvantaged groups, sometimes in rural regions, are particularly prone to snake attacks. Specialized workers are also more vulnerable, such as:

  • Labourers in agriculture.
  • Herders.
  • Fishermen
  • Hunters.

The majority of snakes in North America are not poisonous. Nevertheless, poisonous snakes include the coral snake, copperhead, water moccasin, and rattlesnake.


Depending on the sort of bite you received from a snake, your symptoms will change. A dry snake bite will most likely just cause oedema and redness in the vicinity of the bite. But, if a poisonous snake bites you, you will have more severe symptoms, which frequently include:

  • Bite wounds on your body. They could be minor, less noticeable markings or puncture wounds.
  • Intense, throbbing, searing pain surrounds the bite that you might not feel right away. Depending on which limb was bitten, you can experience agony all the way up that limb, such as in the groin for a bite on the leg or the armpit for a bite on the arm. Yet not everybody experiences pain. For instance, a coral snake bite might initially seem almost harmless but still fatal.
  • There is swelling, redness, and partial or whole tissue destruction where the animal bit you.
  • Abnormal bleeding and blood clotting. Kidney failure or a haemorrhage are two outcomes of severe bleeding.
  • A weaker pulse, low blood pressure, and a rapid heartbeat.
  • Diarrhoea, headaches, dizziness, nausea, anxiety, and impaired vision.
  • Respiratory difficulties or, in severe situations, total loss of breath.
  • Increased saliva and perspiration production.
  • Your muscles are weak, and your face or limbs are numb.
  • You could get an anaphylactic shock if you respond allergic to a snake bite. Some of the symptoms are identical to or strikingly similar to those listed.

However, there are a few additional signs, such as:

  • Swollen tongue and acute throat constriction make it difficult to talk.
  • Very young youngsters may start to pale.
  • Wheezing or coughing never stops.

The two main categories of poisonous snakes are:

  • There are roughly 300 poisonous species of elapids (the cobra family), including sea snakes, coral snakes, kraits, and mambas. They bite downward with small fangs located at the front of the upper jaw, followed by chewing. Although their venom mostly damages neurons, it can also injure blood cells or bodily tissue. If a cobra bites you, you might pass away very fast from heart and lung paralysis.
  • There are more than 200 species of vipers, including Old-World vipers and pit vipers (such as rattlesnakes, copperheads, water moccasins, or cottonmouths). They have long, hollow, poisonous fangs that are joined to their upper jaw's moveable bones. They retract their fangs inside of their mouth.


You might or might not find it difficult to stay away from snakes, depending on where you live (or choose to go). Nonetheless, there are some helpful suggestions to prevent getting bitten if you are going to be in snake territory:

  • Be mindful of where you place your hands and feet at all times. Never reach into holes and confined areas, or beneath anything, without first making sure there are no snakes lurking there.
  • Avoid sitting or lying down in places where snakes may be present.
  • While moving through or working in places with dense vegetation, wear high-top leather boots.
  • Never try to handle, capture, or keep deadly snakes.
  • When camping, use additional caution in marshes and other areas where snakes are likely to be present.
  • If you encounter a snake, back away from the snake carefully and keep your hands off of it.


First and foremost, get medical treatment immediately. This means that even if the bite is not painful at first, you should still treat it as though it may be life-threatening and call 911 or emergency services as soon as you can. The therapy can be aided by accurately identifying the snake, albeit this is very challenging to achieve. Be careful to also do the following things right away:

  • Take off any jewellery and watches since swelling may cause them to pierce the skin.
  • To prevent the transmission of venom into the bloodstream, keep the bite site below the heart.
  • Be still and collected. Roll to your side and have a nap in the recovery position if you can. The poison will be caused by excessive movement. 
  • Wrap the bite in a dry, clean bandage. If you can, try to apply a pressure immobilisation bandage. The bite should be covered with this kind of bandage securely. After that, apply another bandage to the whole limb to immobilise it.
  • Even though all of these precautions are helpful, antivenom is the best remedy for a snake bite. As soon as you can, provide antivenom to the bitten sufferer. Your doctor can choose the appropriate antivenom for the case based on the size, colour, and form of the snake.

Antivenoms are produced by injecting specific snake venom into lambs or horses. The watery component of their blood, known as blood serum, is

then processed since it will include antibodies that can counteract the effects of the venom. Antivenoms are available to treat bites from a single kind of snake (known as monospecific antivenoms) as well as bites from a variety of snakes found in a specific area (polyspecific antivenoms).

In order for the antivenom to start working as soon as possible, it will either be administered as an injection or through an IV (through a needle in the arm). Both of these approaches might have negative side effects, yet they have both been found to be the most successful. One of these negative consequences is the illness known as serum sickness, which can develop four to ten days after getting antivenom. You should speak with your doctor if you encounter any of the following symptoms.

When bitten by a snake, humans may become fearful and behave erratically. There are a few things you should refrain from doing right away after being bitten by a snake, such as:

  • You have a higher risk of getting bitten again if you pick up, try to wrap up, or kill the snake. Even lifeless snakes have teeth.
  • Avoid using a tourniquet.
  • Never make any cuts into the wound.
  • Avoid attempting to remove the poison.
  • Using cold or immersing the wound in water is not advised.
  • Avoid consuming alcohol.
  • Do not consume caffeine-containing drinks.
  • Avoid using any painkillers, including ibuprofen (Advil®, Acetaminophen®).

Complications of Snake Bites

Venomous snake bites can result in lifelong impairment, limb amputation, irreversible renal failure, the paralysis that may limit breathing, bleeding problems that may result in a deadly haemorrhage, and tissue damage. 


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Page last reviewed: Apr 25, 2023

Next review due: Apr 25, 2025

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