Snake Bite Treatment: Dos And Don'ts

By:    Published: December 17, 2012

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Whether you're in your own backyard or out in the wilderness, being bitten by a snake is a scary experience to go through. If you or someone you are with are bitten by a snake, the actions you take immediately following the incident could have a significant impact on the victim's recovery and the way that they feel after the bite occurs. Read up on the do's and don'ts associated with snakebites so that, if the situation should arise, you'll be prepared and ready to administer the proper treatment to yourself or to a friend.

Snakebite Dos

If a snakebite does occur, the key is to act fast in order to provide the best treatment and reduce the risk of the venom reaching other parts of the body. Follow these steps when treating a snake bite:

  • Call for help: Quickly make a 9-1-1 call or arrange for someone to take the victim to the emergency room. The following steps can be done while waiting for an ambulance or on the ride to the hospital.
  • Keep calm: While it's important for the person treating the victim to remain calm, it's even more important for the victim to avoid getting frantic or panicky. If the victim's heart starts to beat faster, this could increase the rate at which venom spreads through the body.
  • Wash the bite: Use soap and water to thoroughly clean the site of the snakebite. This will wash away any venom left on the skin and reduce the risk of infection. If you have a snakebite kit with you, now is the time to get it out and follow the instructions provided.
  • Remove clothes and jewelry: It's important to remove any tight fitting clothing or jewelry around the area which has been bitten. This could restrict blood flow to certain body parts if swelling should develop around the bitten area. Items like rings and watches, which are usually fitted snugly to the skin, should definitely be removed as soon as possible.
  • Immobilize the area: Keep the area as still as possible. If possible, make sure that the bitten area is kept at a level that is lower than the heart. This restricts blood flow and keeps the venom from spreading quickly.
  • Apply a bandage: Wrap the area that is a few inches above the bite and not the bitten area itself. This will also help to slow down the venom. Be sure the bandage is not too tight - you should be able to slip a finger under it.
  • Monitor vital signs: Watch for significant changes to the victim's pulse or breathing patterns, and be sure to report these symptoms as soon as medical help arrives.

Snakebite Don'ts

There are some common misconceptions about proper snake bite treatment that you may have encountered. Avoid doing any of the followings things in order to treat a snake bite as they will do more harm than good:

  • Suck out the venom: It is extremely unlikely that a person sucking out the venom from a bite wound will be able to get all of the poison out of their mouth. On top of that, the human mouth usually has large amounts of bacteria in it, which could increase the risk of infection for the bite victim.
  • Capture the snake: Doctors rarely need to know what kind of snake bit the victim in order to properly treat them. It's better to leave the snake alone than to risk another person being bitten.
  • Apply an ice pack: Although the snakebite site may be painful, applying a cold pack or ice to the wound will only make things worse because cold can actually drive poison into the skin.
  • Apply a tourniquet: Any wrap that you apply should be loose to allow blood flow to remain mostly normal. Tourniquets cut off the blood flow completely, which can exacerbate the problems associated with snakebites.
  • Cut the bitten area: Another misconception is that you should cut an "X" at the site of the bite. However, this does not help treat the wound and can increase the risk for infection.
  • Drink alcohol: Some victims want to drink alcohol to calm their nerves and decrease the pain they are experiencing, but this will only increase their metabolism and spread the venom faster. Plus, it can impair judgment, which needs to be at its best during this type of situation.

Getting Medical Attention

Though it is mentioned above in the "do's" list for treatment, it's important to understand why calling for medical help should be the first thing on your to-do list when dealing with a snake bite. Doctors are able to use drugs like antivenin that are extremely effective for treating snakebites - everything done by the victim or the people assisting the victim before medical help arrives is not really a treatment at all. Instead, these are merely steps that should be taken to avoid making the bite any worse and to keep the venom from spreading quickly. Calling 9-1-1 or getting to an emergency room as soon as possible is the only way to truly treat a snake bite, so make sure that it is the very first that you do if a snakebite should occur.

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