Jun 21, 2019, 11:18:15 AM CDT Feb 22, 2023, 4:16:17 PM CST

Snake bites and children: What to do

How to prevent and treat snake bites in kids

Mother and daughter looking at snake at the zoo Mother and daughter looking at snake at the zoo

Texas is home to its fair share of venomous snakes including copperheads, rattlesnakes, cottonmouths (water moccasins) and coral snakes. While these snakes and their bites are certainly frightening, snake bites are rare and rarely fatal. Each year, about 1 to 2 people in Texas die from snake bites.

Still, Sing-Yi Feng, M.D., F.A.A.P., Emergency Medicine Physician at Children's Health℠ and Associate Professor at UT Southwestern, confirms that the Children's Health Emergency Department treats children for snake bites every year, especially in the warmer summer months. She shares tips for keeping your child safe – and what to do if a snake does bite.

How to prevent snake bites in children

As a parent, you can take steps to reduce your child's risk for snake bites:

  • Keep your child away from areas where snakes may live, such as wooded areas, beneath porches, near dead trees or lakes where water moccasins may live
  • Ensure your child wears shoes (not just flip-flops) when playing outside
  • Teach your child not to approach snakes and to tell an adult if they see a snake

"In most bites, either the child doesn't see the snake and accidentally steps on it, or the child is curious and tries to handle the snake," says Dr. Feng. "Snakes generally are afraid of humans and use biting as a defense mechanism. You should try not to disturb their habitat to avoid bites."

How to treat snake bites in children

The moments after a snake bite can be chaotic for parents and children. Dr. Feng encourages parents to stay as calm as possible.

"Parents should keep calm and try to keep the child calm as well," Dr. Feng says. "Immediately call your local poison control center at 1-800-222-1222. If at all possible, take a photo of the snake that bit the child so it can be identified."

You should have your child lie down and raise the bitten area above the level of their heart. Don't apply ice to the wound, but you can wash it out with warm water. Follow any other instructions from Poison Control and be ready to go to the nearest hospital.

What are symptoms of a snake bite?

Sometimes it's not clear if an injury is a snake bite or not. If you're not sure, look out for these snake bite symptoms and signs:

  • Bleeding
  • Fainting or dizziness
  • Fang marks
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Numbness or tingling around the bite or in the mouth
  • Swelling with pain
  • Trouble breathing

These symptoms can require emergency care. Call 911 immediately if your child experiences these symptoms.

However, even if your child was bitten by a snake, they may not have any symptoms.

"The biggest misconception about snake bites is that every snake is venomous," says Dr. Feng. "Even when venomous snakes do bite, 25-50% of those bites are 'dry,' meaning no venom was delivered."

Still, if you know your child was bitten by a snake, you can take them to the hospital for observation. If no symptoms of a venomous bite appear, you can take them home after 4 to 6 hours.

If a bite is venomous, your child will receive supportive care to control pain and monitor their symptoms. Depending on the type of snake and what symptoms your child has, they may also receive antivenom to stop serious symptoms from occurring.

Learn more

Children's Health is by your side keeping your family healthy and safe this summer. See more summer safety tips.

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