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Scorpions to Snakes: The Do’s and Don’ts for Bites and Stings

As spring and summer bring warmer days, creatures like scorpions and snakes start stirring from their winter sleep. These critters might not be your favorite neighbors but knowing how to deal with them is important, especially if you are bitten or stung by a snake or scorpion. 

With the help of Bryan Kuhn, PharmD, a pharmacist and clinical toxicologist with Banner Health, we share common types of scorpions and snakes you may encounter and some essential do’s and don’ts if you are bitten or stung.

Common venomous snakes and scorpions 

Venomous snakes and scorpions can be found in various parts of the United States, primarily in areas with warm climates and suitable habitats.  

“Of all the snakes encountered in the U.S., only 10% can inject poison (venom) when they bite,” Dr. Kuhn said. “Venomous snakes include the rattlesnake, coral snake, water moccasin (cottonmouth) and copperhead.”

Snake bites can be painful and lead to swelling, tissue damage, severe health complications and sometimes death if left untreated. 

There are at least 100 species of scorpions in the U.S. but bark scorpions are the most venomous. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), most live in dry, desert areas, but some can be found in grasslands, forests and caves.

“Most scorpion stings hurt but aren’t life-threatening,” Dr. Kuhn said. “Symptoms of a scorpion sting may include pain, numbness and muscle spasms, but it is extremely rare and you are unlikely to die from it.”

How to handle snakebites and scorpion stings

In the unlikely event you or someone you know is bitten by a snake or stung by a scorpion, Dr. Kuhn shared the following do’s and don’ts.

Do’s and don’ts of snake bites
  • Stay calm and call 911: It’s natural to feel scared but panicking can worsen things. Take deep breaths and call 911. Then call the Poison & Drug Information Center at 800-222-1222. Even if you think it’s a harmless snake, it’s important to get professional medical assistance as soon as possible. 
    “Don’t wait for symptoms,” Dr. Kuhn said. “Obvious signs of an envenomation (site of the bite) include swelling and bruising, but the venom can also affect different components in your bloodstream that don’t present with obvious signs.”
    Almost all bites (aside from dry bites) will require at least a 24-hour hospitalization with the possibility of repeat lab monitoring, wound care and antivenom medication.
  • Remove jewelry and tight clothing: Tying off the affected limb can cut blood flow, leading to tissue damage and other problems. Don’t wrap or tourniquet the bite. Remove anything that can constrict if swelling occurs.
  • Keep still: Limit movement and elevate the bite area to prevent the venom from spreading quickly through your body. 
    “You can use a non-compressive splint to immobilize and straighten the limb,” Dr. Kuhn said. “Elevating the limb above the level of the heart as much as possible can help promote venom distribution away from the bite site and begin the body’s process of metabolizing the harmful venom.”
  • Don’t suck out the venom: You’ve probably seen it in the movies but sucking out the venom with your mouth can introduce bacteria and make things worse.
  • Don’t cut the wound: Contrary to popular belief, slicing into the bite area won’t help remove venom and can lead to more tissue damage. Instead, clean the bite with soap and water to reduce the risk of infection.
  • Don’t try to catch or trap the snake: Try to remember the snake's color, shape and size so you can describe it to health care providers. If possible, take a photo from a safe distance.
  • Don’t mark the bite site: You don’t need to mark where you were bitten or the edges of swelling with a marker or pen. Leave this to emergency medicine and health care professionals to do if needed.
Do’s and don’ts of scorpion stings
  • Stay calm and call Poison Help: Like snake bites, staying calm is important. Call Banner Poison & Drug Information Center at 800-222-1222. Most people can safely observe and manage symptoms at home.
  • Wash the sting area: Use soap and water to clean the sting site and reduce the risk of infection. Keep the sting site clean and dry to minimize the risk of skin infection.
  • Elevate the limb: If the sting is on a limb, elevate it to help reduce swelling and discomfort.
  • Take a pain reliever: Over-the-counter (OTC) pain medication like ibuprofen or acetaminophen can help manage pain.
  • Don’t apply ice to the sting site: Ice may feel good but the pain will return with worse intensity after removing it. Instead, use a cool compress – a small towel soaked in a bowl of ice water. 
  • Don’t catch or trap the scorpion: Kill the scorpion and dispose of it if it’s inside your house. “Whether it’s a baby scorpion or a bark scorpion, identifying the type of scorpion that stung you won’t change what symptoms to look for or what treatment options you have,” Dr. Kuhn said. 
  • Watch for symptoms: Allergic reactions are rare with scorpion stings, but call 911 if you experience difficulty breathing, chest pain, swelling of the face or throat and hives. “Children younger than 5 years old are more likely to require a hospital visit,” Dr. Kuhn said. “After calling the Poison Center, a child with excessive drooling, roving eye movements or inconsolable crying may require antivenom medication that can only be administered in a hospital, most often in the emergency department.”


Finding a scorpion or snake in the wild (or your home!) can be a heart-pounding experience, but knowing how to act if stung or bitten can make all the difference. 

“The most important thing to remember is what NOT to do,” Dr. Kuhn said. “Snakebites and scorpion stings are rare, so be mindful where you stick your hands and feet and be aware of what might be hiding in a hole or sunning itself on a ledge.”

Your well-being is important. If you have questions or concerns about bites and stings and your risk for an allergic reaction, contact your health care provider or a Banner Health specialist.

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