Knowledge of Snake Bite First Aid Can Save Lives
No Matter Where You Live, Learning First Aid for Snake Bites Can Come in Handy
Are snakes one of those things you’re afraid of? I can’t help but think of an old country song “I Don’t Like Spiders and Snakes….” That’s the only line I remember, but every time I think about spiders or snakes, the lyrics run through my head. No matter where you live, it’s important to know snake bite first aid.
I knew a man who was scared to death of any spider because of a childhood experience. However, this same man would chase down a snake just to pick it up. As a child I wondered what was wrong with this grown man who would scream and run from spiders, but would chase down snakes to pick them up.
All snakes can bite, although most snakes are not venomous. Some snakes offer particular service to the homesteader by eating mice and ground squirrels which can carry disease to flocks and herds as well as damage buildings.
The most common venomous snakes in the United States are copperheads, coral snakes, cottonmouths (water moccasins) and rattlesnakes. Vipers have that evil criminal look, you know, that narrowed eye look which comes from the oblong shape to their pupils and broad, triangular-shaped heads.
Many snakes have a triangular-shaped head, but the poisonous viper’s head is broad at the back. Not that I get close enough to be sure mind you. Certainly not close enough to see the shape of the pupils!
In the south, we dwelt among copperheads, rattlesnakes and cottonmouths so I could readily recognize them without having to get close enough to see their eyes.
Some regions of the world, like Australia and South America, have a greater concentration of venomous snakes than others. Snakes are no respecter of location either. They can be found in the wilderness and in the city. It doesn’t matter where you live, knowledge of snake bite first aid can come in handy. Almost as handy as home remedies for bug bites.
A friend of ours from India was visiting with us and he shared some snake stories. I was awed by what seemed like the purposeful pursuit of people by the pit vipers they have there. He told me the people of India are aware of snake habits so watching out for them is a part of their daily life.
Snakes are cold-blooded; they get their body heat from their environment and the sun. Ever see a snake soaking in the sun. He’s heating up and storing heat for later. This is just another reason to like winter or live in a cooler climate! Snakes and snake bites are not as common in the cold because they are hibernating.
Avoiding Contact With Snakes
Prevention is the best cure. Especially in the case of snake bites. Here are a few tips to avoid coming into contact with these critters.
- Watch for them. This is simple, but effective.
- Don’t rest or sleep next to tall grass, brush, big stones or trees in areas where snakes are known to be.
- Don’t put your hands into heavy brush, hollow logs, rock crevices, or any spot a snake may be without checking it out first.
- When walking in thick areas, always look to see where your feet or hands are going.
- Don’t attempt to pick up any snake. (Does this really need to be said?)
- ALWAYS wear hiking boots to cover your ankles and wear long britches when in tall grass or brushy areas. The thicker the shoe leather the safer the shoe.
- Make lots of noise. Snakes don’t hear like we do because they don’t have ears like ours. Our noises create sound waves which are picked up by the skin, muscles, and then the bones of the snake. These carry the sound waves to the inner ear of the snake.
- Don’t hike or walk in snake infested areas alone.
- Purchase a snake bite kit. If you’re an avid outdoors person or live in an area where snakes are plentiful, the snake bite first aid kit is an investment in emergency essentials.
About Snake Bites
Snakes don’t seek us out to bite us. However, when we disturb their nests or startle them, they’re quick to strike out. When a non-venomous snake bites, the biggest concern is damage to tissue surrounding the bite. Secondary infection to the tissue is common.
A bite from a venomous snake requires immediate attention. Not only is there risk of tissue damage, but organ failure and death. Even though the venomous snakes here in the United States don’t usually inject lethal doses of venom, don’t play around with snake bites of any kind.
The younger the snake the higher the risk of lethal doses of venom. Apparently, they don’t have good judgment and dump their entire load of venom without reserving some for more than one strike as an older snake would.
Any time we’re in a situation which causes our flight or fight instinct to kick in, our heart rate increases. This is certainly true when we are bitten by a snake. It’s important to stay as calm as possible because the increased heart rate will carry the venom through the blood stream quickly.
If at all possible, get a look at the snake. Try to identify what kind it is or at least if it’s venomous. If in doubt treat the bite like a venomous bite.
Don’t try to catch the snake. You may be bitten again or run your heart rate up in the pursuit. I know our instinct is to kill the snake, but because of laws and other social factors, we won’t talk about the real possibility of this happening.
Not that I need to tell you, but get out of the snake’s striking range as quickly as you can. They say not to run but that would be so hard to do so I’ll say, “It’s best not to run.”
Snake Bite First Aid Tips
If the snake bit you on the arm or leg, immobilize the limb and keep it below the level of your heart if at all possible. If you’re out in the woods or some other remote area, fashion a splint of some kind. Many snake bite first aid kits have splints in them.
If you have a snake bite kit on you, use the pump included. You should be familiar with what’s included in your kit by looking over your first aid content list.
In full disclosure, I have to say there is a great deal of controversy over these kits in the medical world. Some doctors say they are good to have and use until medical help can arrive. Other doctors say they cause more harm than good. I say, if you’re in a life-threatening situation, why not try something that may help. You have to decide for yourself how you feel about this issue.
Remove any constricting clothing or jewelry. Swelling may cut off the blood supply if these are left on and can’t be removed later.
If you have cell phone signal or can get to a phone, call for medical assistance. Hopefully, you have someone with you who can manage these things without you having to exert yourself.
I know we’ve seen it in the movies thousands of times, but DON’T cut the bite and suck the venom out. This doesn’t work. Cutting the wound increases the blood flow which increases the heart rate. It also increases the risk of infection.
Most first responders agree a properly applied tourniquet is effective in slowing down the spread of venom. Extreme caution should be used when applying one because completely cutting off the blood flow causes serious health risks in itself.
Don’t drink anything caffeine or alcohol based because of the increased heart rate which could result. Stay hydrated, even over hydrate with water.
Snake bite victims experience pain, swelling, numbness, dizziness, vomiting, nausea, heart arrhythmias and difficulty breathing. These can result in failure of the heart, lungs and nervous system.
At the hospital, you’ll be given antivenin and antibiotics. If tissue damage is severe, surgery may be required to remove effected tissue.
Treating a Non-Venomous Snake Bite
Bites from non venomous snakes still require treatment because of the risk of infection. Some secondary infections can become life threatening. If you notice increased redness, an increase of swelling after the initial swelling has decreased, drainage from the wound, fever, nausea or any other unexplained symptom, contact a physician.
Clean the wound carefully with hydrogen peroxide or clean water and a gentle soap. Flush it for several minutes. Pat the wound dry with a sterile gauze if you have it. If not, use a clean, dry, soft cloth. Remember to pat not rub the area.
Apply an antibiotic ointment and a bandage to the wound. It’s still a good idea to seek medical attention.
Stay hydrated. Drink plenty of water. Drink two to three glasses of apple cider vinegar water to balance electrolytes and boost your immune system. You make apple cider vinegar water by adding two to three teaspoons of ACV to your glass of water.
Have ever had a snake bite? I’m happy to say I haven’t and I only know two people who have. One was bitten by a cottonmouth and the other by a copperhead. Neither suffered any life threatening situation, but both had nasty wounds and sought immediate medical attention. They knew what had bit them so it made the delivery of antivenin easy.
Do you have any tips or experience to share with us on snake bite first aid? We’d be happy to learn from you.
Safe and Happy Journey,
Rhonda and The Pack