First Aid For Snake Bites: Refuting The Advice of Movies

The consequences of venom from poisonous snakes vary from minor to life-threatening. Unfortunately with snakes, you are likely to be away from professional medical help when you or someone else are bitten by one. If you are 30 minutes away from help, you should take the necessary first aid steps as quickly as possible.

If venom has been injected there is usually pain and swelling, followed by skin discoloration. Severe poisoning is marked by general weakness or drowsiness, rapid pulse, increased salivation and sweating, breathing difficulty, blurred or dimming vision, swollen eyelids, slurred speech, nausea and vomiting, convulsions, and shock, possibly advancing to coma and death.

First Aid for Snake Bites

The first step is to keep the victim from walking or otherwise moving around because motion speeds distribution of the snake venom throughout the body. Have the person recline, preferably with the bitten part at or below heart level.

Use a tie, belt, or rope to apply a light constriction band to a bite on the arm or leg, about four to six inches above the wound. Make it snug but loose enough to slip a finger underneath. Move the band a few inches higher if the area around in begins to swell. If moving the person is necessary, immobilize the limb with a splint, made from a blanket, towel, or rolled newspaper.

If a snake-bite kit is available, use the extractor in it to remove as much venom as possible, following the kit's directions carefully. Prompt action is a must — up to 35 percent of the venom can be removed if an extractor is used within the first five minutes after the bite has occurred.

If a snake-bite kit is not available, try to squeeze out as much venom as possible. The venom also may be sucked from the wound with the mouth because the digestive system neutralizes venom as long as the person sucking doesn't have any open sores or cuts in or around the mouth. While sucking out venom, be sure to spit out the venom and rinse the mouth periodically.

In the past, first aid manuals gave instructions to make shallow cuts over the fang marks. Experts now feel that this action increases the chance of infection, so they discourage it. In fact, these incisions actually decrease the amount of venom that can be removed with an extractor.

After removing as much snake venom as possible, wash the wound area thoroughly if soap and warm water are available. Alternatively, cleanse it with an antiseptic pad or wipe. Seek professional medical care as soon as possible.

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