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Health Tip

Home :: Snakebite

Snakebite - Treatment and Prevention

There are four types of poisonous snakes in the United States: copperheads, coral snakes, cottonmouths (or water moccasins), and rattlesnakes. Approximately 7,000 Americans are bitten by snakes each year, most commonly in the summer months, in grassy or rocky environments. The toxicity of snake venom, which varies from species to species, can kill local tissue and release toxins into the body that can cause serious problems with blood pressure, heart rate, and pain.

Causes of snakebite

Poisonous snake bites include bites by any of the following:

  • rattlesnake
  • copperhead
  • cottonmouth (water moccasin)
  • coral snake
All snake species will bite when threatened or surprised, but most will usually avoid an encounter if possible and only bite as a last resort. Snakes found in and near water are frequently mistaken as being poisonous. Most species of snake are harmless and many bites will not be life-threatening, but unless you are absolutely sure that you know the species, treat it seriously.

Symptoms of snakebite

A person who has been bitten by a poisonous snake may exhibit mild to severe symptoms, which can include swelling or discoloration of the skin in the area of the bite, a racing pulse, weakness, shortness of breath, nausea, fever and vomiting. In extreme cases, pain and swelling can be severe, the pupils may dilate, and shock and convulsion may occur. The person may twitch and his or her speech may become slurred. In the most severe cases, paralysis, unconsciousness, and death can result.

It is worth emphasizing that the majority of snakes are not poisonous. Nevertheless, anyone who has been bitten by a snake should be seen by a professional immediately, because the severity of initial symptoms does not always reflect the seriousness of the bite.

Natural herbal home treatment for snakebite

  • Black cohosh syrup helps to relieve pain. Take 1/2 to 1 tablespoon of the syrup three times daily.
  • Poultices of comfrey, slippery elm, or white oak bark leaves and bark can be used. Comfrey salve, plantain poultice, or plantain salve can also be used.
  • Echinacea, taken in tea and/ or capsule form, boosts the immune system.
  • Olive leaf extract has antibacterial properties.
  • Yellow dock can be used to alleviate symptoms. Drink a cup of yellow dock tea or take 2 capsules of yellow dock every hour until the symptoms are gone.
  • If medical help is not available, apply a constricting band two to four inches above the bite. Keep calm and immobilize the affected area, keeping it below heart level if possible. If rapid swelling or severe pain develops, an incision can be made directly below the fang marks and suction performed. The cut should be made along the long axis of the limb with a sharp, sterilized blade. Cut just through the skin (about an eighth of an inch deep), making an incision about one-half-inch long, and then apply suction for at least thirty minutes with a suction cup, snakebite kit, or with the mouth (spit out the blood). Caution: This procedure should be performed only in an extreme situation, only if the bite occurred less than five minutes ago, and only if you have had some training in how to do it. Otherwise, it can cause more problems than it solves. Never make cuts on the head, neck, or trunk. Do not perform this procedure if the snake was a coral snake.

Snake Bite Don'ts

  • Do not apply cold therapy, such as an ice pack. This can cause tissue damage.
  • Don't use the small rubber suction cups found in some first aid kits because they are too weak to remove any significant amount of venom.
  • Do not raise the site of the bite above the level of the victim's heart.
  • Don't excite the victim or even allow the victim to walk if it can be avoided. Doing so will increase blood circulation, speeding the spread of the venom beyond the area of the bite.

Snake Bite Do's

  • GET MEDICAL help immediately.
  • If possible, splint the wounded area to immobilize it. This helps to prevent muscle contractions from spreading the poison faster.
  • Limit liquid intake because the body pumps fluids to the bite site, increasing painful swelling. Avoid alcohol, which increases metabolism and impairs judgment.
  • Remember that most bites, even from poisonous snakes, are not fatal. Panic can increase the danger to the victim by inducing rapid heartbeat.


Some bites, such as those inflicted when snakes are accidentally stepped on or encountered in wilderness settings, are nearly impossible to prevent. But experts say a few precautions can lower the risk of being bitten:

  • Even though most snakes are not poisonous, avoid picking up or playing with any snake unless you have been properly trained.
  • Most cases of snakebite occur between sunrise and sunset. Snakes are cold-blooded and are more likely to be out then, basking in the warmth of the day.
  • Tap ahead of you with a walking stick before entering an area with an obscured view of your feet. Snakes will attempt to avoid you if given adequate warning.
  • Be cautious and alert when climbing rocks.
  • Stay out of tall grass unless you wear thick leather boots, and remain on hiking paths as much as possible.

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