Snake bite first aid

As things are getting warmer our Island Facebook pages are flooded with photos of snakes seen on our local trails and walks, so I thought this was a good time to discuss snake bites and what to do if you or a friend is bitten.

Firstly nearly all snakes are shy, they do not want to be near you and if they hear you coming along the trail they generally get out of the way. However as they too are enjoying some sunshine, they can be a bit sluggish and slow to move out the way and therefore we could stumble on them and surprise them causing them to potentially bite. Most snake bites occur when people try to kill the snake. All you need to do when you spot one is back away to a safe distance and let it go on its way.

It’s important to know that it can be difficult to identify a snake, so it would be hard to know if its bite is poisonous or not. Therefore the best advice is to assume it is poisonous and follow these directions.

Your actions should follow the following process:

  1. Call 000 for an ambulance immediately
  2. Do not catch or kill the snake
  3. Do not wash, cut open or suck the bite – there is a snake detection kit that is used to determine what snake it was and the venom on the skin or clothing is used for identification.
  4. Apply pressure to the bite site and use a bandage to immobilize the area.
  5. Keep the person as calm and still as possible
  6. Do not apply a tourniquet
  7. DO NOT TRY TO SUCK THE VENOM OUT

It is important to remember that there is anti-venom for all Australian snake bites according to the Australian health advice from Healthdirect (www.healthdirect.gov.au).

The pressure bandage is the clinical recommendation and best practice in dealing with a suspected or actual snake bite, so here are the guidelines provided by the Australian Resuscitation Council website (https://resus.org.au/)

  • First put a pressure bandage over the bite itself. It should be tight and you should then use a heavy crepe or elasticised roller bandage to immobilise the whole limb.
  • Start just above the fingers or toes of the bitten limb, and move upwards on the limb as far as the body. Splint the limb including joints on either side of the bite. You need to be able to easily slide a finger between the bandage and the skin.
  • Keep the person and the limb completely at rest. If possible, mark the site of the bite on the bandage with a pen.

For more information on applying the immobilisation bandages please follow this link guide to pressure immobilisation bandages 

Lastly a snake bite can be dry or venomous, always assume it is venomous and look for the following signs and symptoms.

  • Pain, stinging, tingling or burning around the bite site
  • Swelling, bruising or bleeding from the bite
  • Possible puncture wounds
  • Nausea and difficulty swallowing, possible stomach ache
  • Dizziness with possible blurred vision and headache
  • Irregular heartbeat

If the person stops breathing commence CPR immediately.

Hopefully you won’t need to follow any of this advice but it’s wise to carry a bandage while out walking in the bush and know how to apply it.

By Mel Rose.

Photo by Ajanta Judd.

Published by drcarolhead

Dr. Carol Head is an General Practitioner with over 30 years experience in General Practice and Aboriginal health services. She has a keen interest in holistic medicine and combines her medical knowledge with her passion for writing. She is particularly interested in the body's ability to heal itself and has published two books: "Holistic Medicine" and "Tools for Transformation".

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