Any time you step into the outdoors you are sharing that space with the wildlife that call it home. Awareness is your best defense mechanism and that’s especially true with snakes. If you know you are in an area that is home to snakes you tread lightly, watch for subtle movement, be careful about where you put your hands, don’t walk blindly through tall grass, be vigilant in rocky areas, wear snake boots or gaiters and more. There are a lot of ways to prevent snake bites. However, sometimes bites do happen despite your best efforts to avoid them. So, here is a quick guide of what do you do if you or someone you know is bit by a venomous snake.
WHAT TO DO IF YOU ARE BIT BY A VENOMOUS SNAKE
- Retreat! After a bite it’s important to get away from the snake as quickly as possible. You don’t want to be dealing with multiple bites.
- Get a look at the snake that bit you. There is no need to actually catch the snake or hunt for it after the bite. Instead, if you can see it, try to get a good physical description. Different snakes require different antivenom and a description can be helpful to the medical professionals, so they can treat you quicker and more effectively.
- Sit down. If possible, position the body so the bite is below the heart.
- Take off any tight clothing or jewelry before you begin to swell.
- Apply a light bandage over the bite – don’t make it tight! The bandage or dressing you use will help to keep the site clean and avoid introducing any other dirt and germs to the wound which could cause an infection.
- Stay put, be still, stay calm.
- Staying calm and being very still will slow the spread of the venom. Snake venom doesn’t travel through your blood, rather it travels through the lymphatic system. The lymphatic system is unlike the circulatory system where blood is pumped through the body via a muscle – the heart. Instead, the lymphatic system works without a pump. Movement in the muscles and joints causes lymph fluid to move. So, by being as still as possible you limit the spread of the venom.
- Seek the help of a medical professional immediately. If you are in a place where you can quickly get to a hospital or call for an ambulance, do it!
BACKCOUNTRY OR WILDERNESS SNAKE BITES:
As hunters, anglers, and outdoorsmen and women we often find ourselves miles away from help, often in remote areas that are inaccessible by vehicles. What do you do then?
Well, if you have a partner with you and it’s feasible, rest and send them for help. If you are on your own and need to hike several miles to rescue yourself there are a couple of things to remember. The first, the sooner you get help, the better. Snake bites should be taken seriously and acted upon quickly. Don’t sit around and wait for symptoms to start occurring, don’t sleep on it overnight, don’t try to power through it. By waiting for hours and hours before you attempt to get help, the site of the bite could swell substantially making it much more difficult and dangerous to seek help later. The longer you wait, the more tissue damage that could occur, as well. You need to act fast with venomous snake bites. If you have to hike a few miles to get yourself back to your vehicle or a place you can call for help, do what you can to immobilize the area where the bite is. For instance, if you get bit on the hand, which is a very common place to suffer a bite, put the arm in a sling and keep the movement of it very limited. By limiting the movement of those muscles, you will minimize the spread of the venom. While you may be tempted to get back to your vehicle quickly – don’t run, just walk. Keep your heart rate at as much of a constant and normal level as possible. If you are carrying around a heavy pack, ditch it so you don’t overexert yourself. Finally, when you can, get help immediately. Fatal snake bites are rare because we have access to great medical care. Get to a hospital, get the right treatment, let the professionals watch for side effects/complications.
WHAT NOT TO DO WITH VENOMOUS SNAKE BITES:
- DON’T: Cut or Suck
This isn’t City Slickers, don’t be coerced into sucking the venom out of the wound! You can’t suck that hard, boss, it’s just a myth!
Also a myth, that you can cut the venom out. Hit the brakes friend, dirty knives in the hands of an untrained snake bite victim are a recipe for disaster. Don’t go carving yourself up!
- DON’T: Use a Tourniquet
Applying a tourniquet above the wound is a bad idea. You don’t want to cut off blood flow. The use of a tourniquet can cause all the venom to gather in one place and swell, rapidly damaging cells. By leaving the tourniquet off and letting the venom spread, it somewhat dilutes the toxins and reduces tissue damage.
- DON’T: Wash the bite
By leaving the bite site alone, the medical team may be able to test some of your skin to determine the type of venom you have been exposed to.
- DON’T: Use an ice pack
Ice packs/cold packs chill the area and inhibit blood flow. You don’t want to cut off blood flow to the area, so don’t ice.
- DON’T: Eat or drink
Eating or drinking, especially alcohol and caffeine, can increase the speed of the body’s absorption of venom. Unless it’s given the green light by medical professionals, don’t consume anything.
- DON’T: Catch the snake
Most snake bites occur as a result of intentional touching. That means there is no need for you to be a cowboy and try to wrangle that serpent with your bare hands, only to have it come back and bite you too! Leave it alone, get a good description and let it get away. If you do kill it, remember a snake can still bite for up to an hour after it dies. Handle it with caution.
Every snake bite should be taken seriously and checked out right away, especially if you aren’t sure what kind of snake, venomous or non-venomous, it was. Venomous bites generally result in a burning sensation at the bite site within 20 minutes and swelling in that time frame as well. It’s also common for victims to feel nauseous, weak, and in some cases have difficulty talking.
By getting medical attention as quickly as possible, you can help reduce the negative impacts of a venomous snake bite.
Get outdoors y’all, but be safe!