Lizard Envenomation Treatment & Management

Updated: Jun 15, 2018
  • Author: Robert L Norris, MD; Chief Editor: Joe Alcock, MD, MS  more...
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Prehospital Care

No evidence-based recommendations have been determined for field management of lizard envenomation.

If the lizard remains attached to the victim, it immediately should be removed by any of a number of methods, such as prying the jaws apart with a stick or metal object, holding a flame under the animal's chin, or submerging the lizard in cold water. Care should be exercised to prevent additional bites to the victim or rescuer as the lizard will be enraged.

If possible, the wound should be washed quickly with running water. Place a dressing on the wound to control any active bleeding, and apply a splint to limit movement of the extremity. The limb can be kept at approximately heart level during transport to medical care.

No evidence to recommend the use of constrictive bands, compressive dressings, or suction is available. Tourniquets should not be used.

Do not make any incisions into the already damaged tissues.

Although ice has been used to reduce pain, it can exacerbate local vasospasm.

Victims showing evidence of shock should be kept in a supine position with legs elevated. If oxygen and intravenous fluids are available, these should be administered during transport to the hospital.


Emergency Department Care

Closely monitor vital signs.

Immediately begin cardiac and pulse oximetry monitoring. [9]

Establish 2 IV lines with isotonic sodium chloride solution.

If hypotension occurs, begin brisk crystalloid resuscitation. If vital signs fail to improve with adequate saline infusion (eg, 20-40 mL/kg), albumin can be administered. Vasopressor agents rarely are necessary, but they may be beneficial in refractory cases.

Wound care

Clean the wounds with soap and water, and evaluate them for retained foreign bodies.

A local anesthetic, such as lidocaine (without epinephrine), can be injected at the bite site to aid in pain control and to assist in exploration of the wounds for retained teeth or damage to underlying structures. [10] Regional nerve blocks and judicious use of narcotics can be helpful in controlling pain. [11] A non–histamine-releasing narcotic, such as fentanyl, may be preferable.

The extremity should be splinted and kept at (or slightly above) the patient's heart level to reduce edema.

Because of the significant local tissue trauma, prophylactic broad-spectrum antibiotics may be administered for a few days, although this treatment is controversial and untested.

Tetanus immunization status should be updated as necessary.


Further Care


Admit patients with a significant systemic reaction or with abnormal lab studies and/or ECG findings, possibly to a monitored setting.

The bitten extremity should be placed in a well-padded splint and elevated to the patient's heart level or higher to reduce edema.

Institute standard daily wound care, including cleansing, topical antibiotic application, and dressing.

Physical therapy can help speed the return to full function.

Admission for pain control may be warranted.


Transfer of victims with evidence of severe envenoming to a center with experience in dealing with these cases may be prudent. Consultation with an experienced provider is recommended (see Consultations).


All victims of helodermatid bites should be observed in the ED for at least 6 hours.

Reliable patients who are relatively asymptomatic, with normal vital signs and lab findings, can be discharged with instructions to return for any worsening symptoms. A responsible adult should be available to help the patient return if necessary.

Provide instructions for wound care (eg, wash the wounds twice per day with soap and water; apply a topical antibiotic ointment and dressing).

Signs and symptoms of wound infection should be discussed with the patient.

Arrange a follow-up appointment for a wound check in 24-48 hours.

Give a prescription for antibiotics (eg, cephalexin) to patients who are being prophylactically treated.

A prescription for a narcotic analgesic, such as hydrocodone, may be appropriate.




Consult an expert in reptile envenomations to assist in management, as necessary. An excellent resource for assistance is the University of Arizona Poison and Drug Information Center (telephone: 520-626-6016).



Avoid handling or otherwise disturbing venomous lizards.

Because these creatures spend approximately 99% of their lives underground, the opportunity to see one in the wild is a great privilege. The urge to pick up or capture it should be strongly suppressed. These animals are legally protected in all regions in which they occur.

A Gila monster (Heloderma suspectum). Photo by Hol A Gila monster (Heloderma suspectum). Photo by Holly McNally.