If you ask people what their biggest fear is, many people will have the same answer: snakes.
The slithery creatures freak out a lot of people, and although most snakes are completely harmless, the few venomous ones give the rest of them a bad rap. According to WebMD, only 400 in 3,000 species of snakes actually inject venom in their prey.
According to the University of Florida, you’re actually way more likely to get bitten by a dog than you are to get bitten by a snake.
Snakes would much rather avoid you entirely than bite you, but obviously there are times when snakes do bite humans. If you startle a snake hiding in the underbrush, it might lash out. With that in mind, it’s important to know what to do in the event of a snakebite.
Read on to find out more about what you should — and should not — do if you’re bitten by a snake.
Thumbnail Photo: Flickr / Ralph Arvesen
How To Avoid Snakebites
Poison Control explains that snakes would much rather leave you alone than approach you, but they will defend themselves if they feel threatened.
Some of the best tips for avoiding snakebites include wearing long, loose pants tucked into tall boots, and making sure to check every surface before placing your hands or feet there.
Snakes like lying out in the sun, so if it’s warm out, they may come out of their dens to sunbathe — most people assume snakes will stay hidden, but that isn’t necessarily true, so checking sunny areas in addition to shaded areas is essential.
What To Do If Someone Gets Bitten
If a snake feels threatened by a person, it may try to defend itself by biting.
When you or someone you know gets bitten by a snake, there are a few things you should do immediately.
According to Poison Control, you should not use any home remedies — call poison specialists at 1-800-222-1222 and go to the emergency room. If you need an ambulance, call 911.
Do #1: Stay Calm
If you get bitten by a snake, the most important thing to do right away is to stay calm. You should sit down and take deep breaths — take note of the time of the bite.
The Carolinas Poison Center also recommends that you keep the bitten area still and raise it to heart level if possible.
Do #2: Seek Medical Attention
If you’re bitten by a snake, you should seek immediate medical attention.
WebMD explains, “Any snakebite victim should go to a hospital emergency department unless the snake is positively identified by an expert as nonvenomous.”
If you’re unsure whether or not the snake is venomous, go to the emergency room — it’s much better to be safe than sorry in the case of a snakebite.
No matter what, if a snakebite victim has chest pain, face swelling, difficulty breathing, or loses consciousness, you immediately need to call 911.
Do #3: Wash Bite With Soap And Water
If you’re waiting for an ambulance, there are a few things you can do.
The Carolinas Poison Center explains that snakebite victims should go inside, sit down, and then gently wash the area with warm, soapy water.
Do #4: Remove Tight Clothing/Jewelry
HealthLine explains that because the area of the snakebite will probably swell, you should remove any tight clothing or jewelry.
If you have anything else constricting your body, you should remove that as well.
What Not To Do If Someone Gets Bitten
There are tons of old home remedies that people think they should use when it comes to snakebites, but many of these are actually harmful for the victim.
Never try to perform any medical procedure at home — instead, call poison control and 911, and get to the emergency room as quickly as possible.
Don’t #1: Use Suction
It was previously thought that suction devices were good for sucking out venom, but that has since been proven wrong.
There’s also an old legend that you should suck the poison out with your mouth and spit it away. Steer clear of this move as well
Never try to suck out the venom by mouth or with a suction device — this can cause more harm than good, explains HealthLine.
Additionally, putting your mouth on the bite might introduce bacteria to the wound.
Don't #2: Use A Tourniquet
Many people think that it’s a good idea to keep the venom contained to where it entered the body, so they will try to tie off the area or apply a tourniquet.
According to the Carolinas Poison Center, “It’s better for the venom to flow through the body than for it to stay in one area.”
Don't #3: Apply Ice
Unlike other injuries, it’s not a good idea to ice a snakebite.
According to the Carolinas Poison Center, icing a snakebite can cause additional tissue damage — this also means you should not use any sort of cold compress.
Don't #4: Cut The Wound
You may think that you can drain the venom by cutting open the bite, but this is not true.
Not only is it unsafe to try to drain the venom, it can actually cause blood loss and make the injury worse, explains the Carolina Poison Center.
Don’t #5: Give The Victim Alcohol Or Drugs
If you’re in a lot of pain from a snakebite, you might think that alcohol and/or drugs might numb the pain.
Do not drink or use drugs if you are suffering from a snakebite — even if it is painful, you need to stick it out and wait for medical professionals to give you appropriate painkillers, explains The Rappahannock News.
According to the Mayo Clinic, you also should avoid caffeine — both alcohol and caffeine can speed up the rate at which your body absorbs the snake venom.
Don’t #6: Give Victim An Electric Shock
Another thing you should never do is administer an electrical shock to a snakebite victim.
According to a study published in Wilderness & Environmental Medicine, there is no evidence to support the claim that electrical shocks treat venomous bites.
Don't #7: Try To Catch The Snake
Lastly, you should never, ever try to catch or kill a snake after it has bitten someone.
The Mayo Clinic explains that although you should try to remember the color and shape of the snake — or photograph it — it’s never worth it to chase after the snake.
Trying to capture a snake may result in another bite victim.
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