Immediate snakebite treatment imperative to health

March 9, 2012

Rolling Plains Memorial Hospital (shown) raises awareness during the Rattlesnake Round-Up

As Sweetwater celebrates the festivities of the 54th Annual World’s Largest Rattlesnake Round-up, local snakes will also begin to emerge from winter hibernation. Rolling Plains Memorial Hospital (RPMH) urges the community to know how to respond to snakebites.
Many different types of snakes can be found in Nolan County; some with poisonous venom that can have debilitating or even deadly consequences.
Treatment of snakebites can be extremely costly. According to Dr. Robert Eaker, emergency department medical director at RPMH, each vial of anti-venom costs approximately $5,000. Depending on the severity of the wound and type of snake, eight to 10 vials are needed for treatment. Many times, treatment requires double the number of vials.
Sometimes, snakebites occur so quickly that victims do not know what hit them. Signs and symptoms may vary, but most typically include: a pair of puncture marks at the center of the wound; redness, swelling and severe pain around the bite; nausea, increased sweating, and labored breathing; and numbness or tingling around your face or limbs.
“One of the most important things to do when bitten by a snake is to see and remember the color, shape and/or pattern of the snake,” said Dr. Eaker. “This information can be very helpful to doctors at the hospital so that proper treatment of the snakebite can be administered.”
Dr. Eaker added that seeking immediate medical attention is critical. Until medical aid can be rendered, keeping the victim calm and still can slow the spread of the venom if the snake is poisonous.
“Contrary to many beliefs, you should never apply a tourniquet to snake bites. Likewise, you should also remove jewelry such as rings and other tight clothing such as boots,” explained Dr. Eaker. “Snake venom can cause massive swelling of the affected area and can destroy red blood cells. If you block the blood flow, you are essentially trapping dead blood cells in the affected area or limb which can cause more harm to the victim than the bite itself.”
Other items to avoid doing after being bitten by a snake is to not slash the wound with a knife, suck out the venom, apply ice or immerse the wound in water, and drink alcohol or caffeinated beverages.
Calling 911 or getting to a hospital as quickly as possible can make a huge difference in recovery from a snakebite. Although death from rattlesnakes is rare, the side effects can be unpleasant.

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