Snakes are predatory animals that trap their prey by biting them. They often bite on small animals, but in some cases, they also bite human beings, even if it is not for feeding purposes. Based on the presence of poison in their teeth, snakes can be classified as venomous and non-venomous. Venomous bite may lead to serious complications if left untreated, including death. Non-venomous bite is also harmful because it may elicit an allergic reaction. Irrespective of what kind of snake you are bitten by, you should receive first aid and emergency medical treatment to avoid the risk of any complications.
There are many different types of snakes, but two types of venomous snakes are most common. The first one is the cobra family. There are around 300 different cobra family species, including coral snakes, mambas, kraits, and sea snakes. Their venomous fangs are short in size and located at the front of the upper jaw. Once they bite someone, their venom can cause neurotoxicity. It can affect your brain, heart, lungs, or other parts of your body. If immediate treatment is not given, it can prove fatal in a short time.
The second most common type of venomous snakes is vipers. They can be seen in different regions of the United States. There are around 200 species of vipers, including rattlesnakes, cottonmouths, copperheads, etc. They have long fangs that are retractable when not in use. The bite from a viper snake is comparatively less toxic than a cobra snake, but it can still lead to severe complications or can be fatal if not addressed on time.
Snake bites are more common in rural areas or developing countries. It also depends on the location of your living area. Living close to regions that have a greater number of snakes around is a risky thing. Certain occupational workers also have an increased risk of being bitten by a snake. These may include farmers, agricultural workers, hunters, herders, or fishermen. Areas that do not have healthcare centers or are far away from them have more fatalities associated with snake bites.
On a global scale, snake bites are common in Asia and some regions of Africa. In the United States, deaths due to snake bites are rare due to the wide availability of medical services, but it still happens in certain instances. Majority of the snake bites that result in fatal complications have been reported to be caused by vipers.
The signs and symptoms of snake bites differ on the basis of the type of snake you’re bitten from. The primary sign of a snake bite is paired fang marks, but it can also present as a wound or laceration. If a non-venomous snake bites you, the most common symptoms are swelling and inflammation around the site or area of the bite. If a venomous snake bites you, the symptoms can spread quickly beyond the bite area. Common symptoms include pain that radiates to the whole limb, redness, swelling, abnormal clotting or bleeding, low blood pressure, increased heart rate, weak pulse, difficulty breathing, nausea/vomiting, muscle weakness, dizziness, headache, and increased sweating. Few other severe symptoms can also occur based on the type of snake that bit you. Some people may develop an anaphylactic shock which can lead to life-threatening complications.
Diagnosis of snakebite is usually made based on clinical symptoms. Your doctor will require a brief medical history to note your symptoms' onset, duration, and severity. All vital signs are checked first to notice any abnormality. A quick physical examination around the bite area is done to determine the extent of tissue damage. Whether a venomous or non-venomous snake bites you, emergency medical treatment is necessary for either of them. This is because the risk of venom spread throughout your body cannot be taken while determining the type of snakebite.
In majority of the cases, the clinical picture of snakebite is very clear, and it is rare to mistake it for any other condition. This can only happen if there is no clear evidence of a bite or any wound/ laceration that can solidify that you got bit by a snake.
If a snake has bitten you, call 911 or emergency medical help immediately. Even if you have not developed any symptoms, it is still important to receive the necessary treatment. Keep a few first aid points in your mind to deal with a snake bite. Try not to panic or move around too much because that can increase the spread of venom through your blood. Stay calm, lie down in a recovery position and cover the bite with a clean, dry bandage. Do not attempt to suck the venom, cut the bite site, apply a tourniquet, apply an ice pack or wash with water because these can do more harm than good. Once you have reached a medical facility, the best treatment option is to receive a shot of anti-venom. If you recognize the snake or have a picture of it, it can become easier for your doctor to choose the best anti-venom for you. You will be kept in hospital until complete recovery.
No medications should be taken if you have been bit by a snake. People tend to take pain killers to help with their symptoms, but they can cause further complications, so they should be avoided.
If immediate medical attention is received, it is possible to recover completely after a snake bite. However, untreated snakebites, especially from a venomous snake, can lead to fatal complications.
It is difficult to prevent a snake bite as it can happen without warning. If you live or work close to an area with snakes, avoid going near dense, bushy areas where you cannot see a snake coming. Wear leather boots and gloves if possible. If you ever come across a snake, try not to panic and back away slowly to reduce the risk of alarming the snake.
Our clinical experts continually monitor the health and medical content posted on CURA4U, and we update our blogs and articles when new information becomes available. Last reviewed by Dr.Saad Zia on May 07, 2023.