What to do if your child gets a snake bite

Children's Health

by Kayla Cehand, BSN, RN, CPN, CPST

Jan 17, 2021

Texas is home to an array of snakes, which can pose a danger to children playing outside. As a parent, it’s important to know how to prevent snake bites, the signs and symptoms to watch for, and what to do if you or your child is bitten by a snake.

How to prevent snake bites in children

Keep in mind that not all snakes are venomous. The most common venomous snakes that you’ll encounter in Texas are copperheads, cotton mouth water moccasins and rattle snakes. Coral snakes are also native to the area but encounters and bites are rare. For the most part, snakes are active during warmer months as they rely on external temperature to regulate their body heat.

There are a few steps that you can take to prevent snake bites:

  • Educate your children about snakes and the importance of not approaching them. Children are very curious and do not always recognize potential harm. Avoiding disturbance of a snake’s natural habitat will offer prevention measures as snakes are afraid of humans.
  • Understand common areas where snakes live and prevent approaching these areas: wooded areas, taller grass areas, under rocks and under areas around the home, such as porches.
  • Encourage children to wear closed toe shoes while playing outside.
  • While enjoying wilderness activities, wear protective gear such as snake boots, gaiters or chaps.
  • Encourage the use of flashlights when playing outside in the dark.
  • Keep grass cut and brush cleaned from areas where children play.

Signs and symptoms of a snake bite

Children are very resilient and may not offer a clear picture that they have been bitten. If you’re unsure, look for the following symptoms:

  • Fang marks, typically two present in one area
  • Swelling
  • Bruising
  • Bleeding
  • Nausea and/or vomiting
  • Pain at the site of concern

How to treat a snake bite

Treatment of a snake bite will depend on the type of snake. In times that this is unknown, assessment is used to determine treatment. First and foremost, remain calm to help prevent the child from becoming anxious. Avoid placing a tourniquet or applying ice to the site. Keep the site of injury at the level of the heart. 

Bring your child to the emergency department for further assessment. In the emergency department, they will be assessed for evidence of a true envenomation versus a “dry” bite in which no venom was injected. If there is no evidence of significant envenomation, they will likely be able to go home after a period of observation.  

For children who experience a significant envenomation, anti-venom will be administered and is lifesaving as well as limb-saving. These patients are admitted to the hospital and monitored while the anti-venom works to counteract the venom’s effects. 

Although a snake bite can be very frightening for you and your child, rest assured that even for patients who have severe envenomation, the majority have excellent recovery.

Worried your child has a snake bite? Call 911 or find emergency care near you.

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About the Author

Kayla Cehand, BSN, RN, CPN, CPST, is a trauma and injury prevention coordinator at Baylor Scott & White McLane Children's Medical Center – Temple. Cehand studied at Temple College and University of Texas at Arlington, and she strives to make an impact on decreasing preventable injuries and death in children.

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