If you are bitten by a snake, you will certainly know it. Not only will you see the snake-either as it strikes you or as it retreats after striking you-but you will also notice the telltale fang marks on your skin. These look like two small, red puncture wounds about an inch to three inches apart (depending on the size of the snake’s jaw). The wound may sting a little (if the snake is not poisonous) or a lot (if it is poisonous). If the area around the wound becomes inflamed or turns red or blue, it was probably inflicted by a poisonous snake.
The majority of snakes in the United States are not poisonous. You can tell whether the one that bit you was poisonous by the physical appearance of the snake. Most poisonous snakes have elliptical, slit-shaped eyes, triangular heads, and a slight indentation on each side of their heads halfway between their eyes and their nostrils. This “pit” is what gives rattlesnakes, copperheads, water moccasins, and other poisonous snakes their collective name of “pit vipers.”
Signs and Symptoms
- Two small, parallel puncture wounds
- If the area around the bite begins to swell or change color, or is extremely painful, a poisonous snake may have bitten you
- Nausea and blurred vision are also symptoms of a poisonous snake bite
Conventional Medical Treatment
If you are absolutely sure that your snake bite was not inflicted by a poisonous snake, you can wash the area thoroughly with mild soap and warm water. Then apply an antibiotic cream and bandage the wound.
If you are bitten by a poisonous snake, it’s important that you should remain as quiet, still, and calm as possible. Hold the bitten area lower than heart level. These measures will slow your blood circulation, increasing the time it takes for the snake’s venom to reach your heart. Meanwhile, ask someone to call an ambulance or drive you to an emergency room.
To further reduce blood flow, tightly tie a belt, ribbon, string, or scrap of cloth 2 or 3 inches above the bite. If the bite is above heart level, tie the bandage a few inches below the wound. Do not untie the bandage.
You will have to suck out the venom if the bite:
- was inflicted by a poisonous snake that was not a coral snake
- occurred within the last five to ten minutes
- is on the arms or legs
- occurred in an area that is more than 30 minutes from medical help
Make a 1/4-inch deep cut with a razor blade or knife edge (preferably sterilized with flame, alcohol, whiskey, or soap and water) over each fang mark. Make the cut along the length of the limb, not across it. Suck out the venom using your mouth or a suction device. If you use your mouth, immediately spit out the venom. Do not use your mouth if you have open sores in or around your mouth. (This treatment is not recommended unless you are trained to perform it or are more than 30 minutes away from the nearest medical facility.)
Complementary and Alternative Treatments
Nutrition and Supplementation
Although most snakes are not poisonous, it is wise to see your healthcare provider immediately. Then to help fight pain and speed healing, follow these daily supplement guidelines:
- calcium (500 mg every 4 to 6 hours until pain eases)-acts as a sedative and relieves pain
- magnesium (1000 mg with the first 500 mg of calcium)
- vitamin Bs (pantothenic acid) (500 mg every 4 hours for 2 days)- the anti-stress vitamin
- vitamin C with biofIavonoids (2000 mg every hour for 5 to 6 hours, up to a total of 15,000 mg)-relieves pain and fights infection
- vitamin A (10,000 IU; do not exceed 8000 IU if you are pregnant)-promotes tissue healing
- vitamin E (600 IU)-promotes healing
- zinc (30 mg)-boosts immunity
- N-acetyl cysteine (200 to 600 mg)-detoxifies the system
- glutathione (200 mg)-detoxifying agent
To reduce pain and aid in healing, apply a poultice of slippery elm, comfrey, plantain, or white oak bark and leaves.
Traditional Chinese Medicine
Acupuncture In some cases, acupuncture can be used to treat shock that results from a snake bite. To be effective, treatment must be sought immediately, and if possible, used on the way to the hospital.