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What Are the Different Types of Treatment for Poisonous Snake Bites?

The Northern Pacific rattlesnake is venomous.
A cobra, a type of venomous snake.
Snake bites typically require emergency treatment.
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  • Written By: Sheri Cyprus
  • Edited By: Heather Bailey
  • Last Modified Date: 28 November 2014
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The different types of treatment for poisonous snake bites can basically be divided into first aid and emergency room care. The exact treatment given to a poisonous snake bite victim will differ depending on the species and the resulting symptoms as well as the person's health and age. The two types of snake venom, hemotoxic and neurotoxic, won't affect the victim in the same way, so the symptoms require different treatments although both require antivenin as soon as possible. Many poisonous snakes have one type of venom that is more dominant than the other, although some species, including the Mojave rattlesnake, have high concentrations of both hemotoxic and neurotoxic venom.

Hemotoxic poisonous snake bites, from species such as the puff adder and the copperhead, affect the tissues as well as the blood. As these bites are usually painful, the victim is usually given pain relieving medication as well as an antivenin injection on arrival to the hospital's emergency room. Neurotoxic snake bites such as those from the king cobra and the coral snake may not be painful, but they can cause severe nerve damage. Drooping eyelids and difficulty swallowing are symptoms of neurotoxic snake bites, and fast treatment with antivenin is needed to counteract the damaging effects.

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Whether a poisonous snake bite is hemotoxic, neurotoxic or both, treatment with an injection of antivenin, or antivenom, as soon as possible is absolutely necessary to neutralize the poison. Typically, hospitals will carry the antivenin of all of the poisonous snakes found within their region. Giving the victim the proper amount of the antivenin is crucial for proper treatment. The severity of the poisonous snake bite depends on the health and size of the victim. Children and the elderly tend to be particularly sensitive to the effects of snake venom.

Most victims of poisonous snake bites are treated in the intensive care unit (ICU) of the hospital after first receiving emergency room treatment. Reactions that may have occurred from the snake bite such as low blood pressure or blood clotting are attended to and monitored by hospital staff. While prompt emergency and hospital treatment is required for the proper treatment of a poisonous snake bite, first aid treatments are also often necessary.

First aid treatments for poisonous snake bites may include a suction pump to extract the venom. The bitten limb is said to be best kept below heart level. Whereas people used to try to suck out the venom by mouth or try to cut the bite site on the skin with a knife, these are now considered dangerous and incorrect treatments. The most important treatment for a poisonous snake bite that cannot be stressed enough is the injection of the proper amount of antivenin.

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Rotergirl
Post 2

@Pippinwhite -- Yeah, people are still talking about whether the possible tissue damage from a pressure bandage on a pit viper bite is worth the risk.

The pressure bandage protocol is used widely all over Australia and anywhere there is a prevalence of elapids -- which have mostly neurotoxic venom. It doesn't cause the skin to rot, so pressure bandages are used to keep the venom from reaching vital organs.

Thank goodness snakebite in the US is pretty rare!

Pippinwhite
Post 1

Actually, even using a venom extractor is not really indicated any more.

For any snakebite on the arms, the first thing to do is to loosen any snug clothing (sleeves, etc.) and remove any jewelry. The limb may swell, so get that stuff off before it starts.

U.S. pit vipers have primarily hemotoxic venom, that also causes skin degeneration. Antivenin is the main remedy, since some snakebite experts are still debating over whether a dressing should be applied, or whether emergency techs should just focus on getting the patient to the hospital.

It's worth noting that some pit viper bites are "dry" bites, meaning no venom is injected.

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