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Brown snake.

Brown snake.
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Snake bites

6-minute read

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

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 people. 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.

Keep calm, and follow these steps:

  • Get the person away from the snake.
  • Ensure they rest and help them to stay calm.
  • Call triple zero (000) and ask for an ambulance.
  • Apply a pressure immobilisation bandage (see below).
  • Don’t wash the bite area — venom left on the skin can help identify the snake.

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

Do not apply a tourniquet, cut the wound or attempt 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 infographic 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 and 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.

The Australian Resuscitation Council has a guide to pressure immobilisation bandages on its website.

Anaphylactic shock

Some people occasionally have a severe allergic reaction to being bitten by a snake. Their whole body can react to the bite within minutes, which can 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
  • abdominal pain or vomiting

If someone is experiencing anaphylaxis, call triple zero (000) for an ambulance.

If the person has a ‘personal action plan’ to manage a known severe allergy, they may need help to follow their plan. This could include administering adrenaline 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 only treatment. For further information, visit the Choosing Wisely Australia website.

For more information on anaphylaxis, including setting up a personal action plan, go to www.allergy.org.au.

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 different types of snake bite are there?

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.

Once medically assessed, there is usually no need for further treatment, such as with antivenoms. Many snake bites in Australia do not result in venom entering your body (known as envenomation) and so they can be managed without antivenom.

Because you can’t always tell if a bite is a dry bite, always assume you have been injected with venom and manage the bite as a medical emergency — call triple zero (000) for an ambulance.

Venomous bites

Venomous bites are when the snake bites and releases venom into a 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 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 around 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 gums or the site of the snake bite
  • collapse
  • paralysis, coma or even death

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

CHECK YOUR SYMPTOMS — Use our bites and stings 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, or discard clothing.

Do not try to catch or kill the snake to identify it since 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.

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.

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.

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

Last reviewed: September 2020


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