First Aid for Snake Bites: Symptoms, Types, Treatments

snakes

Contrary to popular belief, snake bites don’t always turn out to be deadly as these have been made to be. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), about 7,000 cases of venomous snake bites are recorded every year. However, out of this statistic, only 5 to 6 cases turn out to be fatal.

Nevertheless, while a snake bite may not turn fatal, it is still crucial to act urgently in performing proper first aid treatment to prevent serious health repercussions or even fatalities. In case the patient may need medical treatment, a private ambulance can help transport the patient immediately to the nearest hospital.

What are snake bites?

Snake bites are injuries that are brought about by snakes, especially venomous ones. These snake bites can appear as two puncture wounds caused by the fangs of a venomous snake, so looking for these marks is an easy way to determine if you have been bitten by one and should be given immediate medical attention.

Why do snakes bite humans?

Because snakes are predatory animals, biting is one of the quickest ways to render the prey, usually rodents or smaller birds, powerless, making it easier for them to capture.

In the case of humans, like most animals, snakes bite as a form of defense mechanism. Snakes are known to attack humans particularly in instances where they are startled, provoked, or felt threatened.

What are the different types of snakebite out there?

Identifying the type of snakebite is essential in understanding what kind of treatment should be done since not all snakes have the same type of venom. In fact, the venom varies per species.

Typically, there are two types of snake bites: dry bites and venomous bites.

Dry bites

A snakebite is considered dry when the snake does not release venom upon its bite. This type of bite is often produced by non-venomous snakes like the black rat snake, bull snake, or northern water snake.

Venomous bites

As implied, these are snake bites where venom is released during a bite. These are much more dangerous compared to dry bites and are produced by venomous snakes like the banded Malayan krait, slender coral snake, and the brown long-gland coral snake, which are some of the most venomous snakes found in Singapore.

Determining the type of snakebite has been met with a lot of inaccuracy. That’s why the number one rule when it comes to dealing with snake bites is to treat every snake bite as if it’s venomous.

How common are snake bites?

Snake bites are pretty common in South Asia. This region experiences the most cases of snake bites all over the world. This fact can be attributed to high population density, agricultural activities, as well as rural areas, and the lack of snakebite management programs and organisations.

From a global perspective, over 7000 cases of venomous snake bites are reported on an annual basis, of which 5 or 6 are cases with fatalities.

Who is most at risk of suffering a snake bite?

About 95% of snakebite cases take place in tropical countries. This makes individuals living in South Asia, Southeast Asia, and sub-Saharan Africa more likely to experience snake bites.

Furthermore, certain occupations are more prone to snake bites. These include fishermen, hunters, and herders, as well as agricultural workers.

What are the symptoms of a snake bite?

The symptoms of snake bites are dependent on the type of snakebite.

Local effects

A dry bite will only manifest only through swelling and redness around the affected area. A venomous bite, on the other hand, has more serious symptoms. This includes the following:

  • Bite marks or two puncture wounds on the skin
  • A throbbing and burning pain around the bite is not immediately felt after the bite. This pain usually climbs and spreads further and into the surrounding body part.
  • Redness and swelling of the affected area, with possible tissue damage

Bleeding

A venomous snake bite may cause abnormal bleeding and blood clotting. When severe bleeding continues, it can lead to hemorrhage or kidney failure.

Respiratory system effects

Someone who has been bitten by a venomous snake may experience low blood pressure, an increased heart rate, and a weakened pulse. You may also notice an increased production of saliva and intense sweating.

Nervous system effects

The venomous effect of the snake bite can also manifest in signs such as nausea and vomiting, diarrhea, headaches, dizziness, and anxiety.

Muscle death

Weakness of the muscles and numbness in the face and other body parts can also be experienced once bitten by a venomous snake.

In severe cases, the venom of highly poisonous snakes such as cobras, vipers, and some sea snakes can have a detrimental effect on the muscle. Once bitten, the venom can trigger necrosis of the muscle tissue, where the tissues of the muscles start to die throughout the body. Furthermore, it can also incur damage to the kidneys.

Eyes

Blurred vision can be noted from a person that has been bitten by a venomous snake.

Which snakes are venomous?

Knowing which snakes are venomous is advantageous in avoiding them when you see one from a few spots away.

King Cobra

Probably one of the most notorious snakes around the world, the king cobra is the longest venomous snake. These endemic snakes can be found in the rain forests and fields of India, Southeast Asia, and southern China.

When provoked or agitated, the king cobra can “stand up,” and lift about a third of its body off the ground, and is an especially intimidating feature when on attack mode.

Despite its notoriety, the king cobra is a shy snake and will avoid human confrontation in all ways, unless of course, threatened. In which case, they will be showing off their iconic hood and begin making an intense hiss sound.

The venom of the king cobra can kill 20 people or an elephant. If bitten by a king cobra, it is possible to experience respiratory arrest and cardiac failure.

Black Mamba

The black mamba is another dangerous snake that is known for being super fast and intensely aggressive. These snakes are also lethally venomous, being tagged responsible for countless human fatalities. Because of these features, the black mamba earned the reputation of being the deadliest snake in the world.

Just like the king cobra, the black mamba is a shy snake that will almost always choose escape rather than confrontation. However, when agitated, they respond just like a king cobra, except for striking just once. A black mamba can repeatedly strike to deliver copious amounts of venom that attack the nervous and cardiovascular systems. A single bite from the black mamba can instantly kill a person in 20 minutes.

The black mamba is commonly found in Africa.

Coral Snake

Eastern coral snakes are relatives of the cobra, mamba, and sea snake. These are extremely elusive snakes that spend most of their time burrowing or hidden beneath the ground or concealed under piles of leaves. When it comes to attack mode, these snakes mostly only bite when touched or stepped on. Furthermore, to fully inject their venom onto their prey or attacker, they must be able to chew on it. This is why most of these snakebites on humans do not lead to death.

However, while this is the case for humans, coral snake bites are still highly detrimental to human health. You may notice very little pain or swelling in the area of the bite. But, if the victim has not been administered antivenom, the toxin ejected by the coral snake can start affecting the nervous system, severing connections between the brain and the muscles. Furthermore, it can also result in slurred speech, double vision, muscle paralysis, and cardiac failure.

Western Diamondback Rattlesnake

The western diamondback rattlesnake is an extremely venomous rattlesnake species that is known to be the leading cause of snakebite deaths in northern Mexico. Their venom contains proteolytic enzymes that dismantle the tissues, slowly disabling the victim or the prey. Once bitten, the blood vessels, blood cells, and the heart are also attacked by the venom.

This type of rattlesnake can be found in a range of areas, like hillsides, rocky, canyons, deserts, grasslands, and oak forests.

Timber rattlesnake

The timber rattlesnake is a species of the venomous pit viper that can only be found in eastern North America, making it one of North America’s most dangerous snakes.

What makes the timber rattlesnake extremely dangerous are its features: long fangs, outstanding size, and high venom yield. But while known for being a venomous snake, the timber rattlesnake exhibits a mild disposition and a long period of dormancy.

Cottonmouth or water moccasin

The water moccasin is another venomous snake that comes from the pit viper species. This semi-aquatic snake is also called cottonmouth due to the white cottony lining inside its mouth that can be seen when this snake resorts to threat display.

The water moccasin is most likely to only attack once handled or picked up.

Northern copperhead

The northern copperhead snake is a largely quiet and mostly inactive type of snake. When encountered, the northern copperhead snake is most likely to remain motionless or slowly make an escape. However, when severely provoked, this snake can strike intensely.

The northern copperhead is commonly found in the eastern parts of the United States.

First Aid for a Snake Bite

A snake bite must always be given immediate medical treatment. In the event of a snake bite, quickly call local emergency services. While waiting for help, you can perform the following steps to prevent the situation from turning worse.

When applying first aid to a snake bite, it is important to act fast, since some types of venom can kill within minutes.

  • Write down the time of the bite.
  • Remove accessories and pieces of jewelry as these could potentially hurt the patient once swelling takes place.
  • Try to keep the bitten area below the heart. This slows down the spread of the venom in the bloodstream.
  • Let the patient rest. Ensure that they remain calm and still. Movements can cause the venom to spread faster throughout the body.
  • Take a photo of the snake if you can.

Anaphylactic shock

There are instances where anaphylactic reactions can be triggered by snake venom. Take note of the following signs to tell if the patient is having an anaphylactic reaction.

  • Breathing difficulties
  • A hoarse voice when talking or difficulty talking
  • A swollen tongue
  • Dizziness or collapse
  • Swelling or tightness in the throat
  • Persistent cough, with wheezing
  • Abdominal pains
  • Vomiting

If this happens, make sure to call the local emergency services quickly or bring the patient quickly to the nearest hospital.

Cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR)

If the patient loses consciousness or stops breathing, you may need to perform cardiopulmonary resuscitation. Learn how to perform Cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) with our CPR + AED Certified Course.

What shouldn’t you do when treating a snake bite?

There are a lot of misconceptions when it comes to treating a snake bite. It is crucial to know these myths so that you do not actively make a mistake when providing a first-aid treatment to the patient.

Sucking out the venom

Unfortunately, the part where you suck out the venom of a snake from a bite can potentially incur further damage to the nerves and blood vessels, and may even cause an infection.

Cutting across the area of the bite

Like sucking out the venom, cutting across the area of the bite is also damaging to the nerves and blood vessels.

Collecting a dead snake for examination

In the instance where a snake dies, try not to come in contact with its mouth. A dead snake’s fangs still carry poison and may still accidentally infect someone who touches its mouth. Even if its head has been severed, the same situation applies.

Applying a tourniquet

A tourniquet restricts the blood flow, leaving the venom concentrated in a single area. When this happens, the venom can easily destroy the cells in the area near the bite.

Ice

The application of ice on a snake bite may block blood circulation, much like a tourniquet.

Alcohol or caffeine

Intake of alcohol or caffeine speeds up the system’s absorption of the snake.

What happens after you’re treated for a snake bite?

After treatment, the patient may be required to stay in the hospital for 24 hours or so. This is so that the doctors and medical professionals can observe your blood pressure and general well-being.

How can you prevent a snake bite from happening?

Preventing the instance of a snake bite may vary depending on your location. However, if you are near the woods, fields, or damp areas, here are some tips to avoid getting bitten.

  • Watch where you put your hands or step your feet. Refrain from treading into unfamiliar territories or reaching into holes or a pile of leaves. Always observe your surroundings. If you must,
  • wear pants, tall leather boots, and leather gloves to be sure.
  • Avoid sitting or lying down in areas where snakes may be hiding.
  • In case you’re camping, exercise caution around swamps.
  • If you encounter a snake, back away slowly and never touch it.

FAQ

In the event of a snake bite, call emergency help immediately.
All snake bites must be given medical attention. You can perform the first-aid treatment to the patient, but this is only meant to keep the venom at bay until medical help arrives.
All snake bites must be treated with antivenom.
The black mamba, the fastest snake in the world, is also the snake that kills the fastest. The bite of a black mamba can kill a human in 20 minutes.
Unless the snake in question is a black mamba, a person who has been bitten by a snake may experience a deterioration of their system within 2 to 3 days leading to severe organ damage or death.

Sind Krait, one of the most toxic snakes in India, has no known antivenom as of current times.

If antivenom is administered within 20 minutes, the patient may have a chance of survival against a black mamba bite.

Antivenom can be administered in two ways: via slow intravenous injection at 2ml per minute or via intravenous infusion where the antivenom is diluted in 5 to 10 ml per kilogram of the body weight.

Possible complications from a snake bite include anaphylactic reactions, vision damage, muscle necrosis, infection, loss of limb, sepsis, cardiac and respiratory damages, long-term mental effects, or even death.

For most snake bites, an antivenom is required, otherwise, a person may not survive. In the case of a coral snake, however, most cases can be treated without antivenom but this would mean a longer treatment and observation in the hospital.

The cost of a snake bite treatment depends on the brand of the antivenom. Other necessary treatments for complications may also affect the overall cost of the treatment.

Snake bites are associated with pain and swelling of the affected area. This pain tends to spread further into the affected limb.

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