snake bites

Snake Bites – What you need to know, to Help you Survive

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Hiking, camping, and enjoying the outdoors are often great experiences many people use to get away from mundane day to day life.  Whether it’s spending a weekend hiking to a mountain retreat or simply relaxing around a campfire at the lake, almost nothing beats the bliss of being outdoors and roughing it.  Still, many people are still afraid of the great outdoors.  What about getting lost?  Bears?  Snakes?  The odds of getting injured outdoors are slim to none.  In fact, you’re more likely to die from getting struck by lightning than dying from a snake bite.  But what if you find yourself in the wilderness and you or your friend does get bit by a snake?


To begin with, absolutely do not cut your snake bite open and try to suck out the venom!  This popular myth is often seen in movies, but it absolutely does not work!  By the time you start trying to suck the venom out, it has already traveled through the victim’s body.  Sucking on the wound, or cutting it, can further damage the already damaged tissue around the bite.  Additionally, do not apply a tourniquet to the afflicted limb.  It can’t stop the venom and can seriously damage or destroy the limb by restricting blood flow.  Ice can also cause damage.  So if you can’t do these things to help you or your friend, what can you do?


Start by trying to identify the snake.  Don’t get close to it, try to capture, or kill it.  After all, you don’t want two people to get bit!  See if you can tell what kind of snake it is.  Later, this information will be invaluable to getting your friend treatment with the correct anti-venom.  Next, keep the snake bite victim calm.  The venom will travel through their body slower if their heart isn’t racing a million miles an hour.  It may be hard to remain calm, but it is vital to do so.  Dial 911 immediately!  The best course of action is to wait for help to arrive.  If necessary, you can drive your victim to the emergency room, though waiting is recommended.  The fast trip to the emergency room can cause the venom to spread faster, so always wait if possible.  However, waiting for help doesn’t mean there is nothing you can do to help the snake bite victim.


Have the victim lay or sit down, ensuring that the bite is below the level of their heart.  Remove any rings, shoes, or anything near the bite area.  The bite will rapidly swell and leaving these on will restrict blood flow and cause, at the very least, extreme pain.  In some situations, the restricted blood flow can kill the limb.  There are some recommendations to wash the bite with soap and water to lower the risk of infection.  Others recommend that you don’t wash the wound, as the venom on the outside of the wound can help identify which snake was responsible for the bite.  There’s no agreed upon best course of action, so use your best judgment.  If possible, splint the affected limb or use a sling to minimize movement.


Dress the wound in a clean and dry dressing.  Do not make this dressing tight!  Next, you need to put some pressure bands around the bite wound.  If you don’t have any pressure bands, handkerchiefs, ripped up clothing, or the like can be substituted.  Ensure that each band is approximately two inches above and below the bite.  Never put the two bands around a joint, such as a knee or elbow, as this can lead to loss of the limb.  You want the band to be tight enough to restrict lymphatic flow, but not tight enough to stop blood from flowing.  When thinking of how tight to make the band, think of when a nurse applies one while drawing blood.  Tight bandages, wraps, and tourniquets often result in the amputation of limbs after a snakebite, so be sure it isn’t too tight!  


If by some chance you can’t apply a bandage to the bite area, you can still help the bite victim.  If you have a pen or marker, begin by tracing the edge of the inflammation around the bite area and writing down the time.  Swelling will most likely occur in as little as five minutes after the bite.  As the swelling progresses, trace the expanding edge of the swelling, once again marking the time.  If you have a smart phone or a camera, you can also take pictures with timestamps if you don’t have a pen.  Any information about the severity and speed of the swelling is important.


In some cases, you may be in a situation where help can’t reach you.  In these situations, have the afflicted sit down for around 20 to 30 minutes.  This helps the victim calm down and slows the spread of venom.  From there, walk out of the area at a calm and slow pace.  It may seem counter-intuitive to take your time, but this is truly the best way to ensure the venom doesn’t spread as fast.


Remember that your chances of dying from a snakebite are slim to none.  You’re more likely to die from a bee sting than a snake bite, so remain calm and don’t panic.  Remember that identifying the snake and proper documentation of the snakebite will greatly help the bite victim out.  After a snakebite, ensure the victim remains calm and seeks medical attention immediately.  Don’t do anything you see in movies and you will be fine!

The information on this website is as up to date as possible to how to treat a snake bite. In saying that it’s not updated as often as official first aid websites. Make sure to visit those before you go out into the wild to make sure that you know all the best ways to stay alive after being bitten by a snake.

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