Snake bites can be a frightening injury for many individuals. Always remember that snakes only bite either to catch prey or an act of self-defense. The poisonous species voluntarily release venom when they bite. Since snakes can control the amount of venom that they release, some bites are considered “dry” and only 50-70% of bites from venomous snakes lead to poisoning.
It is vital to manage snake bites as a medical emergency unless it is certain that the bite came from a non-venomous snake. Delaying the treatment after being bitten by a venomous species can result to death or serious injury.
There are various species of venomous snakes that have distinct types of venom. Generally, the main categories of venom include the following:
- Myotoxins – break down muscles
- Cytotoxins – trigger swelling and tissue damage in the bite site
- Neurotoxins – can cause paralysis or other damage to the nervous system
- Hemorrhagins – can cause disruption to the blood vessels
- Anti-clotting agents – capable of prevent the blood from clotting
The symptoms that manifest from a venomous snake bite depend on the type of snake involved. Some of the usual reactions include the following:
- Two puncture wounds at the bite site
- Throbbing, sharp pain at the bite site but pain is not always a symptom.
- Nausea and vomiting
- Swelling, reddening and damaged tissue at the bite site
- Unusual blood clotting and bleeding
- Blurry vision
- Drop in the blood pressure and shock
- Difficulty breathing or not able to breath at all in serious cases
- Increased saliva production
- Numbness in the limbs or face
- Profuse sweating
There are cases of reported deaths yearly from snake bites. Based on statistics, the highest record for reported venomous snake bites occur in the rural areas of South Asia, Southeast Asia as well as sub-Saharan Africa.
Major groups of venomous snakes
- Elapids (cobra family) – Comprised of about 300 venomous species including mambas, kraits, coral snakes and sea snakes. The snakes usually have short fangs in the front of the upper jaw and strike downwards and followed by chewing. The venom is neurotoxic but can also damage bodily tissues or blood cells.
- Vipers – Comprised of 200 species which includes water moccasins, pit vipers, copperheads and adders. The snakes usually have hollow, long venomous fangs attached to movable bones in the upper jaw. The fangs fold back in the mouth if not being used.
Treatment for snake bites
The initial move is to seek medical care as quickly as possible. While on the way to the hospital or waiting for the emergency team, you have to provide first aid care.
- Remove any watches or jewelry since these can cut off the circulation or harm the skin if swelling occurs.
- The bite site should be lower than the level of the heart to slow down the spread of venom throughout the bloodstream.
- Instruct the individual to stay calm and still. Unnecessary movement will only allow the venom to spread faster all over the body.
- Wrap the bite site using a clean, loose-fitting bandage.
The main objective of treatment is to administer the right anti-venom as soon as possible. Proper identification of the snake such as its size, shape and color can help determine the right treatment.