Nobody wants to be bitten by a snake unless they’re Coyote Peterson. But, sometimes, snake bites happen, whether you want them or not.
Knowing how to react in such a situation can make the difference between life and a swift and painful death.
So, let’s discuss that today!
Understanding Snake Bites
Before knowing what to do when bitten by a snake, you should first understand the basics of a snake bite because not all bites are the same.
Several factors will influence the outcome, such as:
- The type of venom – There are two primary venom types: hemotoxic and neurotoxic, followed by two other types that aren’t as well-known: cytotoxic and myotoxic. In short, neurotoxic venom disrupts the central nervous system’s electrical signals, leading to muscle paralysis and death via suffocation. Hemotoxic venoms destroy the blood vessel lining, causing hemorrhage, shock, and death. Cytotoxic venoms lead to tissue death and cause necrosis. These are generally not fatal but can deliver permanent tissue damage. Myotoxic venoms cause severe pain, muscle stiffness, and muscle damage. Many snake species use a mix of these types of venom, making the treatment more difficult as a result.
- The type of snake – You’re now interested in determining the snake that bit you. Some snakes have neurotoxic venoms only, like cobras and mambas. Others are purely hemotoxic, like the coral snake and pit vipers. And then you have several other species that deliver a blend of different proteins and molecular venoms, like some species of vipers. These can produce both hemotoxic and neurotoxic effects with an array of mixed symptoms. Knowing the type of snake that bit you is vital for figuring out the right antivenom and pursuing the best treatment.
- The snake’s aggression – Some snake species are more aggressive than others, so they have different biting behaviors. While some snakes only bite once and flee, others may bite repeatedly, injecting more venom with each bite. And then you have the chewers. Cobras tend to bite and chew on the wound, pressing against the venom glands to deliver larger quantities of venom. Understanding all of these factors can improve your survival rate dramatically.
- The snake’s age and behavior – It’s worth noting that smaller and younger venomous snakes tend to be more aggressive and inject a lot more venom than adults. Because they’re small and vulnerable, they make up for it by injecting a lot more venom. They’re also more eager to bite in defense than most adult snakes, who prefer to flee and hide instead. Also, some snakes deliver dry bites, others inject moderate amounts of venom, and a few go full in, packing you with more venom than it takes to kill.
- Venom potency – Some types of venom deliver worrying symptoms several hours after a bite, while others take effect within minutes. The latter describes the taipan, for instance, who can deliver sufficient venom to kill 100 humans with one bite. The symptoms can become visible within minutes and lead to death in less than 30 minutes.
As you can see, there are several things to consider, as these can make the difference between life and death.
First Aid for Snake Bites
If you’ve been bitten by a snake, follow these steps:
- Get to safety – You don’t want the snake to bite you several more times or return after leaving for a bit. Also, if there’s a snake around, others may accompany it. Snakes aren’t exactly social creatures, but some species live in groups. Or maybe you’ve stumbled upon the snake during the mating season, in which case others may be lurking around.
- Call for help – You should do so immediately after the bite. The sooner the help arrives, the higher the chances for a full recovery.
- Write down the time of the encounter – You should always note the time you got bit. That’s because different types of venom have different active windows, with the symptoms aggravating over time. Writing down the exact time, you got bit will help the medical personnel better assess your condition and the venom’s progression.
- Do not move – Once you’re safe, conserve energy. Moving and running increases the blood flow, helping the venom spread throughout the body faster. Calm your breathing, stay calm, and remain immobile until help arrives.
- Slow down the venom’s activity – You can do so by keeping the bite wound lower than the heart level. Gravity will work for you, slowing down the venom’s activity and delaying its journey to the heart.
- Identify the snake – It would be great if you could note a description of the snake that bit you. This is to allow the medical personnel to identify the culprit and figure out the right antivenom faster.
You should also clean the wound with water and soap if you have the opportunity to do so. You should never:
- Apply a tourniquet to the bite wound
- Apply ice
- Attempt to suck the venom or cut the wound for the same purpose
Keep in mind that, once bitten, there’s nothing you can do yourself. Your best chance of survival relies on calling for help and remaining calm.
Most importantly, you should always call for help, even if you don’t think that the snake that bit you was venomous. Or that the bite looks small and you don’t experience any symptoms immediately.
Some types of venoms have delayed responses, with symptoms occurring as late as 24-72 hours after the bite.
Identifying the Snake
It’s never easy to keep a cool head when bitten by a snake enough to remember the attacker’s main characteristics. This is why it’s important to train your brain beforehand so you know what to look for in such a situation.
Here are the main features that will help you identify the snake species:
- Color and pattern – All snake species have different colors and patterns that should help you place them in a specific category. Write down the overall pattern as accurately as you can.
- Size and shape – Note the snake’s approximate size and head shape. Most venomous snakes have triangle-shaped heads, but this is not always the case. They also have shorter and thicker bodies, especially in the middle area with thin necks and tails.
- The eyes – Venomous snakes have elliptical retinas, while non-venomous species have round retinas.
It’s important to remember that these traits are general, not universal. Not all venomous snakes have triangle-shaped heads, for instance, the coral snake is proof of that.
They’re also not all vividly colored, as some come with earthy and bland colors like the rattlesnake or the copperhead.
But having a baseline of traits written down will help better than nothing at all.
Transporting the Bite Victim
If someone close to you was bitten, consider the following tips:
- Call for help – This should always be the first step since you don’t know the situation’s specifics. You don’t know how much venom the snake injected or how the person will react to the substance. Calling for professional assistance immediately is paramount. Only do so after you’ve secured the person and got out of the situation.
- Keep calm – This is critical. Calm down the victim to slow its heart rate and lower its stress. This will delay the venom’s activity and lower the intensity of the symptoms.
- Monitor breathing – This is another must-do, no matter the type of venom. Neurotoxic venoms will lead to paralysis and difficulty breathing, but so do some hemotoxic venoms due to some neurotoxic components. Always ensure that the victim has clear and open airways and can breathe freely.
- Ensure comfort and rest – The victim should lie down comfortably with the bite wound lower than the heart level. We’ve already discussed this point.
Having access to a personal automobile can be beneficial in emergency situations. If the nearest medical center is within driving distance and it would be quicker to get there yourself, it might be worth considering this option instead of waiting for assistance.
However, if you don’t have a vehicle, it’s advisable to remain at the current location and provide precise coordinates to the medical professionals. This can ensure a speedy rendezvous and help them reach you as soon as possible.
I’ve said it once, and I’ll repeat it here as well: do not attempt any DIY methods to remove the venom or treat the person other than the minimum necessary. The probability of worsening the situation is very high in the case of snake bites.
Antivenom is the main treatment method for a snake bite, and several antivenoms are available, one for each snake species. Some types of venom don’t have any antivenom available.
The antivenom is made from the antibodies produced by various animals injected with a particular snake’s venom. These antibodies will bind to the venom’s molecules, rendering it harmless.
The type and amount of antivenom to use can only be determined by a professional, depending on the snake species, the bite location, and the severity of the bite. Don’t take matters into your own hands, even if you have access to antivenom.
It’s also important to note that antivenom administration is only part of the treatment. The bite victim may also require intubation to counter the effects of the neurotoxic venom and prevent suffocation.
Also, some people are allergic to some of the antivenom components, so they are at risk of experiencing anaphylactic shock.
The antivenom should only be administered by a professional in a controlled environment with access to quality medical equipment.
Some snake bites deliver extensive local pain and discomfort; pain management may be necessary until help arrives.
The following options may be just what you need:
- Over-the-counter medication – Naproxen and ibuprofen or any other NAID (Non-Steroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drug) can help in this sense. These will decrease the pain and reduce inflammation, improving the victim’s comfort.
- Local anesthetics – These are generally used by professionals to alleviate localized pain. Lidocaine is usually the go-to medication, but only in more severe cases of extensive pain and suffering.
- Opioids – Fentanyl and morphine are the best options in this sense, but don’t use them yourself. These should only be administered by certified clinicians in a controlled environment.
In case someone else gets bit, you should also provide the person with psychological and emotional comfort as much as possible until help arrives. Uplifting the person’s spirit can sometimes make a massive difference.
Some snake bites can produce a variety of complications, depending on the venom type, the person’s age and health, and numerous other factors.
Some of these complications may include:
- Hemorrhage and tissue damage – These effects are generally linked to hemotoxic activity, leading to localized necrosis and severe bleeding. Hemotoxic venoms tend to destroy the blood vessel lining, leading to external and internal hemorrhage. Urgent medical assistance is necessary to prevent these problems.
- Infection – Some victims experience localized infections due to not cleaning the bite site well enough.
- Anaphylactic shock – This affects people with particular sensitivities to various snake venom types. Most people experience anaphylactic shock from insect bites, but snake venom can also trigger the issue. Anaphylactic shock is a potentially deadly affliction leading to the inflammation of the main airways and causing suffocation and death.
- Organ failure – The kidneys and the heart tend to suffer the most. Some types of venom are designed to attack the organs and can lead to cardiac arrest.
These are general complications that won’t affect all people equally. The categories of people most prone to such problems include children, old individuals, and those with already-existent health problems and compromised immune systems. But I believe the anaphylactic shock is the most dangerous side-effect.
The main reason is that most are unaware they’re sensitive to a particular snake’s venom; they will only find that out once they’re bitten.
In that case, the resulting anaphylactic shock will aggravate their condition quickly, often leading to death before help arrives.
As you can see, venomous snakes are no joke. These animals have evolved to protect themselves from predators that are often far larger than they are.
For instance, the feared taipan can kill an elephant with one bite.
It’s important to give snakes the respect they deserve and learn what to do in case of being bitten. I hope our today’s article can help in this sense.