Healthdirect Free Australian health advice you can count on.

Medical problem? Call 1800 022 222. If you need urgent medical help, call triple zero immediately

healthdirect Australia is a free service where you can talk to a nurse or doctor who can help you know what to do.

Brown snake.

Brown snake.
beginning of content

Snake bites

It can be difficult to know if a bite from a snake is dangerous or not. This article explains the best first aid treatment depending on the type of snake involved.

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

Snake bites

Australia has some 140 species of land snake, and around 32 species of sea snakes have been recorded in Australian waters.

About 100 Australian snakes are venomous, although only 12 are likely to inflict a wound that could kill you. These include Taipans, Brown snakes, Tiger snakes, Death Adders, Black snakes, Copperhead snakes, Rough Scaled snakes as well as some sea snakes.

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

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

Different types of snake bites

Dry bites

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

Because you can’t tell if a snake’s bite is a dry bite always assume that you have been injected with venom, and manage the bite as a medical emergency. Once medically assessed, there is usually no need for further treatment, such as with antivenoms. Many snake bites in Australia do not result in envenomation, and so they can be managed without antivenom.

Check your symptoms with healthdirect’s Symptom Checker to get advice on when to seek medical attention.

Venomous bites

Venomous bites are when the snake bites and releases venom (poison) into a wound. Snake venom contains poisons which are designed to stun, numb, or kill other animals.

Symptoms of a venomous bite include:

  • severe pain around the bite, this might come on later
  • swelling, bruising or bleeding from the bite
  • bite marks on the skin (these might be obvious puncture wounds or almost invisible small scratches)
  • swollen and tender glands in the armpit or groin of the limb that has been bitten
  • tingling, stinging, burning or abnormal feelings of the skin
  • feeling anxious
  • nausea (feeling sick) or vomiting (being sick)
  • dizziness
  • blurred vision
  • headache
  • breathing difficulties
  • problems swallowing
  • stomach pain
  • irregular heartbeat
  • muscle weakness
  • confusion
  • blood oozing from the site or gums
  • collapse
  • paralysis, coma or death (in the most severe cases).

In Australia, there are approximately two deaths a year from venomous snake bites.

Snake identification

Identification of venomous snakes can be made from venom present on clothing or the skin using a so called 'venom detection' kit. For this reason do not wash or suck the bite or discard clothing.

It's not recommended to kill the snake for purposes of identification, because medical services do not rely on visual identification of the snake species.

Antivenom is available for all venomous Australian snake bites.

First aid for snake bites

For all snake bites, provide emergency care including cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) if needed. Call triple zero (000) for an ambulance. Apply a pressure immobilisation bandage and keep the person calm and as still as possible until medical help arrives.

Avoid washing the bite area because any venom left on the skin can help identify the snake.

DO NOT apply a tourniquet, cut the wound or attempt to suck the venom out.

Cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR)

Read these articles for an overview of:

For printable charts, see St John Ambulance Australia’s first aid resuscitation procedures (DRSABCD) poster, as well as their quick guide to first aid management of bites and stings.

Pressure immobilisation bandage

A pressure immobilisation bandage is recommended for anyone bitten by a venomous snake.

This involves firmly bandaging the area of the body involved, such as the arm or leg, and keeping the person calm and still until medical help arrives. First put a pressure bandage over the bite itself. It should be tight but you should be able to easily slide a finger between the bandage and the skin. Then use a heavy crepe or elasticised roller bandage to immobilize 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.

A guide to pressure immobilisation bandages can be found on the Australian Resuscitation Council website.

Anaphylactic shock

Snake bites can be painful. Occasionally some people have a severe allergic reaction to being bitten. In cases of severe allergic reaction, the whole body can react within minutes to the bite which can lead to anaphylactic shock. Anaphylactic shock is very serious and can be fatal.

Symptoms of anaphylactic shock may include:

  • swelling of the mouth, throat or tongue
  • difficulty swallowing
  • difficulty breathing or shortness of breath or wheezing
  • difficulty talking
  • a rash that may appear anywhere on the body
  • itching – usually around your eyes, ears, lips,throat or roof of the mouth
  • flushing (feeling hot and red)
  • stomach cramps, feeling or being sick
  • feeling weak
  • collapsing or falling unconscious.

Call triple zero (000) for an ambulance. If the person has a 'personal action plan' to manage a known severe allergy, they may need assistance to follow their plan. This may include administering adrenaline to the person via an autoinjector (such as an Epipen®) if one is available.

The Australasian Society of Clinical Immunology and Allergy recommends that for a severe allergic reaction adrenaline is the initial treatment. For further information, visit the Choosing Wisely Australia website.

The St John Ambulance Australia first aid fact sheet for bites and stings can be found on their website. For more information on anaphylaxis, including setting up a personal action plan, go to www.allergy.org.au.

Not sure what to do next?

If you are still concerned about your spider bite, why not use healthdirect’s online Symptom Checker to get advice on when to seek medical attention.

The Symptom Checker guides you to the next appropriate healthcare steps, whether it’s self care, talking to a health professional, going to a hospital or calling triple zero (000).

Last reviewed: September 2017

Recommended links

Need more information?

These trusted information partners have more on this topic.

Found 22 results

Snake bite - Farmer Health | Farmer Health

Snake bites can occur on Australian farms. Australia has some of the worlds deadliest snakes and they mainly live in rural and remote areas. They also come around farm houses looking for water or mice. Different snake venom affects the body...

Read more on The National Centre for Farmer Health website

Kids' Health - Topics - Snake bites

Snakes will usually try to get out of your way if you let them know you are coming (you could try making thumping noises with your feet). The snake will be able to feel the vibration that thumping feet cause.

Read more on Women's and Children's Health Network website

First aid for bites and stings - myDr.com.au

First aid tips for bites and stings from some of Australia's deadliest snakes, spiders, ticks and marine animals.

Read more on myDr website

First aid for bites and stings

Serious allergic reactions occur in approximately 2 per cent of stings from ants, bees and wasps.

Read more on WA Health website

Bites and stings - Farmer Health | Farmer Health

There are many Australian animal and insect species that bite or sting. In general, most bites and stings, such as those from mosquitos and ants, are not serious and dont require medical treatment. If the bite or sting is from...

Read more on The National Centre for Farmer Health website

Parenting and Child Health - Health Topics - Bites and stings

Most insect bites and stings are not poisonous but the bites of some insects such as wasps, bees and some spiders can be harmful. If a child is bitten and it is possible to save the insect, this may help with treatment it if is poisonous.

Read more on Women's and Children's Health Network website

Spider Bite | myVMC

Spider bites can affect anyone

Read more on myVMC – Virtual Medical Centre website

Kids' Health - Topics - Bites and stings

Occasionally some unfortunate people are bitten by these creatures, but most bites and stings are from much smaller beasties - like flying, jumping and crawling insects, quite small spiders and some things which look pretty tame really (sandflies, mosquitoes and fleas, to name just a few).

Read more on Women's and Children's Health Network website

Bites and Stings

Read more on Queensland Health website

Poisons Information Centre - Summer dangers

Poisons Information Centre, this Season's Dangers. Poisoning prevention advice for the general public for the summer season. Includes information on poisonous animals and marine creatures, food safety and handling, in particlar, coins in Christmas puddings, spiders, box jellyfish, cone shells, ciguatera poisoning, and food poisoning in general.

Read more on Queensland Health website

Healthdirect 24hr 7 days a week hotline

24 hour health advice and information you can count on

1800 022 222

Government Accredited with over 140 information partners

We are a government-funded service, providing quality, approved health information

Australian Government, health department logo ACT Government logo New South Wales government, health department logo Northen Territory Government logo Government of South Australia, health department logo Tasmanian government logo Government of Western Australia, health department logo
Feedback