How to Treat a Venomous Snake Bite
There are two reasons snake bites usually happen. The first is that the person didn't see the snake and accidentally stepped on it. The second reason is that the person was trying to pick up or play with the snake. That might sound stupid but it happens more often than you'd think.
When most people encounter a snake, a healthy dose of adrenaline is dumped into their system. This can cause them to react in numerous ways, most commonly in panic. That's without even getting bit! Now imagine how most people react once bitten.
The most important thing to remember once you're bit is to stay calm. I know this seems counter-intuitive, but trust me; this is the best thing you can do for yourself. Make sure that you have either killed the snake or backed far enough away that the snake is no longer a threat.
Signs & Symptoms
With a typical venomous snake bite, the patient will have sustained any number of puncture wounds from the snake's fangs. Other signs and symptoms include:
- Immediate burning pain
- Tachycardia (fast heart rate)
- Dyspnea / tachypnea (fast respiratory rate / difficulty breathing)
- Diaphoresis (sweating)
- Nausea and vomiting
- Generalized weakness
- Rubbery, minty, or metallic taste in mouth
- Erythema and edema (swelling and redness)
The best treatment that you can initiate is to get your cell phone out and call 911!
If it at all possible, irrigate and clean the wound. Make sure not to get any venom that is around the bite into any open wounds. Always keep the site of the bite below the level of the heart, as this will help slow the spread of the venom.
It's extremely important that you can describe the snake to medical personnel. This will help determine the course of treatment.
DO NOT try the old cowboy method of taking out your knife and cutting the wound to try to suck out the venom! This only causes more tissue damage and if you have open wounds in your mouth you have just essentially received a snake bite to your mouth.
DO NOT tie a tourniquet above the bite. This just reduces oxygenated blood flow to the site and will make the envenomation worse.
DO NOT apply ice or cold compresses to the site. This will just cause more tissue damage due to the blood vessels constricting.
Snake Bite Kits
Snake bite kits can be bought in most sporting good stores. DO NOT waste your money on these. They typically have a scalpel, suction device, constricting band and alcohol wipe. The only thing of any benefit in these kits is the alcohol wipes, which can be used to clean the bite.
The only way to treat a Crotalinae envenomation is with an antivenom called CroFab, which is only available in hospitals. The antivenom is given intravenously and only under strict observation by a doctor and it's very important that you advise the medical personnel if you have any preexisting medical conditions such as bleeding disorders, heart, lung or kidney conditions. These conditions will play a factor in your overall treatment.
While most of this might seem like common sense, it never hurts to brush up on your preparedness! Remember to stay calm, call 911 and get to the hospital for definitive treatment.