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Snake bites

9-minute read

All snake bites must be treated as potentially life-threatening. If you have been bitten by a snake, call triple zero (000) and ask for an ambulance.

Key facts

  • Always seek emergency medical treatment for snake bites, as they can be life-threatening.
  • Snake bites are either venomous (if the snake has injected venom into your body) or ‘dry’ (if no venom is injected).
  • Snake bites may cause pain and swelling around the site of the bite, or there may be very few signs left on the skin.
  • Symptoms that snake venom has entered your body may include dizziness, blurred vision, breathing difficulties, nausea, muscle weakness or paralysis.
  • Most snake bites occur when snakes are disturbed; the best way to prevent being bitten is by avoiding snakes altogether.

Are snake bites serious?

Knowing whether a snake bite is dangerous or not can be difficult. This article explains what to do — including providing the proper first aid treatment — if you are bitten by a snake.

It’s also important to be aware that bites from snakes can cause a severe allergic reaction (anaphylaxis) in some rare cases. Learn more about first aid treatment for severe allergic reactions in the ‘anaphylaxis’ section below.

How do I provide first aid for snake bites?

You should always provide emergency care if you or someone else is bitten by a snake — including cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR), if required. Snake bites should be medically assessed and treated even if the person who was bitten seems well.

Keep calm, and follow these steps:

  • Get the person away from the snake.
  • Ensure they rest and help them to stay calm.
  • Follow the steps of basic first aidDRSABCD.
  • Call triple zero (000) and ask for an ambulance.
  • If calling triple zero does not work on your mobile phone, try calling 112.
  • Apply a pressure immobilisation bandage (see below).

If you can’t use a pressure immobilisation bandage because the bite is on the stomach or back, apply constant, firm pressure.

Things you SHOULD NOT do:

  • Do not wash the bite area — venom left on the skin and clothing can help identify the snake.
  • Do not apply a tourniquet (a strap to stop blood flow)
  • Do not cut the wound
  • Do not try to suck the venom (poison) out.

St John Ambulance Australia has a quick guide to the first aid management of snake bites.

The Australian Red Cross also has a handy guide on how to treat them.

Pressure immobilisation bandage

A pressure immobilisation bandage is recommended for anyone bitten by a venomous snake. You should firmly bandage the area of the body involved (such as an arm or leg), and keep the person calm and still until medical help arrives.

Follow these steps to apply a pressure immobilisation bandage:

  • First, put a pressure bandage over the bite itself. It should be tight — you should not be able to easily slide a finger between the bandage and the skin.
  • Next, use a heavy crepe or elasticised roller bandage to immobilise the whole limb. Start just above the fingers or toes of the bitten limb and move upwards on the limb as far as the body. Splint the limb including joints on either side of the bite.
  • Keep the person and the limb completely at rest. If possible, mark the site of the bite on the bandage with a pen.

St John Ambulance Australia's first aid fact sheet includes information on pressure immobilisation bandages.

Severe allergic reaction (anaphylaxis)

Rarely, some people have a severe allergic reaction to being bitten by a snake. The reaction can happen within minutes and lead to anaphylactic shock (anaphylaxis). Anaphylactic shock is very serious and can be fatal.

Symptoms of anaphylactic shock include:

  • difficult or noisy breathing
  • difficulty talking and/or a hoarse voice
  • a swollen tongue
  • persistent dizziness or collapse
  • swelling or tightness in the throat
  • being pale and floppy (young children)
  • wheeze or persistent cough

If you or someone near you has symptoms of anaphylaxis (severe allergic reaction), call triple zero (000) and ask for an ambulance. If you have access to an adrenaline autoinjector (EpiPen™ or Anapen™), use it, and continue to follow the steps of an ASCIA allergy action plan, if one is available.

For more information on anaphylaxis and an ASCIA allergy action plans, visit the Australasian Society of Clinical Immunology and Allergy (ASCIA) website.

Cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR)

In some cases, the person bitten by the snake may need cardiopulmonary resuscitation.

See healthdirect’s page on how to perform CPR for more information.

St John Ambulance Australia has a printable poster on first aid resuscitation procedures.

What are the different types of snake bite?

Dry bites

A dry bite is when the snake strikes, but no venom is released. Dry bites are painful and may cause swelling and redness around the area of the snake bite.

After you see a doctor, you won’t usually need further treatment, such as with antivenoms (which are medicines that act against the effects of venom). Many snake bites in Australia do not result in venom entering your body (known as envenomation), so they can be managed without antivenom.

Because you can’t always tell if a bite is a dry bite, treat all snake bites as a medical emergency — call triple zero (000) and ask for an ambulance.

Venomous bites

Venomous bites are when a snake bites your body and releases venom into the wound. Snake venom contains poisons that are designed to stun, numb or kill other animals.

Symptoms of a venomous bite include:

  • severe pain around the bite — this might take time to develop
  • swelling, bruising or bleeding from the bite
  • bite marks on the skin — these might be obvious puncture wounds or almost invisible small scratches

Once venom starts to spread within the body, you may develop symptoms including:

In Australia, there are about 2 deaths each year from venomous snake bites.

CHECK YOUR SYMPTOMS — Use the Symptom Checker and find out if you need to seek medical help.

How can I make sure the snake is identified?

Venomous snakes can be identified based on any venom deposited on clothing or the skin.

Do not:

  • wash the area of the bite
  • try to suck venom out of it
  • discard clothing
  • try to catch or kill the snake to identify it

Medical services do not rely on visual identification of the species of snake.

Is antivenom available for all types of snake bite?

Antivenom is available for all bites by venomous Australian snakes.

Which snakes commonly bite in Australia?

About 4 in every 10 snake bites in Australia are from a brown snake.

Around 100 Australian snakes are venomous, but only 12 are likely to inflict a wound that could kill you. Australia has about 140 species of land snake, and around 32 species of sea snake.

How can I prevent snake bite?

Most snake bites happen when people try to kill or capture them. Don’t panic if you come across a snake. Back away to a safe distance and let it move away. Snakes often want to escape when disturbed.

Other things you can do to prevent snake bite include:

  • Be careful where you walk or put your hands when you are in the bush, especially at night, when snakes are more active.
  • Use a torch if you are walking at night in the bush.
  • Make noise and stomp your feet when walking in the bush, to let any snakes know you are there.
  • Wear thick clothing such as jeans and boots for extra protection against bites.

Resources and support

  • For advice on snake bites, contact the National Poisons Information Centre on 131 126.
  • Refer to the St John Ambulance Australia first aid fact sheet on snake bite
  • In a medical emergency call triple zero (000).

Learn more here about the development and quality assurance of healthdirect content.

Last reviewed: October 2022

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