Snake Bites: It’s Important to Act Quickly

They slither on the ground. They hide in the grass. Sometimes you can see them, and sometimes you cannot. You are walking along and the next thing you know you feel one of them bite you. Snakes. They are all over the place and they are hungry, especially in the heat of the summer.

If you are bitten by a nonvenomous snake, you might experience some pain and itchiness at the site of the bite. A venomous snake such as a rattlesnake, copperhead, coral snake or water moccasin – that is a different story.

“A venomous snake bite can cause burning that can then move to swelling and bruising up the arm and leg within 15 to 30 minutes,” said Dr. Mary Billington, an Assistant Professor of Emergency Medicine with McGovern Medical School and Director of Medical Technology at UTHealth Houston and affiliated with Memorial Hermann. “You might also feel nauseous, have difficulty breathing and begin to feel weak.”

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), there are a couple of things to remember if you are bitten by a snake:

  • Call 9-1-1 and seek medical attention as soon as possible.
  • Antivenom is the treatment for serious snake bites. The sooner it is started, the better.
  • Do not drive yourself to the hospital. People with snakebites can become dizzy or even pass out.

“You know, in the past, I think it was kind of common for people to say things like, ‘oh, well, just suck the poison out.’ This is not something that we recommend,” Dr. Billington said. “Also, do not use a tourniquet because it will not stop the spread of venom. Instead, keep the area where you were bit very still. This will help keep the venom from quickly circulating throughout the body.”

Billington adds that should also *not* do the following:

  • Don’t apply ice or cut the wound to try and remove the venom.
  • Don’t drink caffeine or alcohol because it could cause the venom to rapidly spread throughout the body.
  • Try and take photo of the snake, but by all means, don’t try to capture it. Try to remember its color and shape so that you can describe it, which will help in your treatment.

The CDC reports that about 8,000 people are bitten by snakes every year in the United States.

“It’s important to remain calm if you are bitten. Also, if possible, try and make sure the bite site is positioned below your heart,” Billington said. “Taking quick action to get the help you need after getting bitten by a snake will help you avoid serious injury and, in the worst case scenario, death.”

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Ali Vise