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Snake Bite First Aid 101 – How To Save A Life!

Snake Bite First Aid

Table of Contents

Sharon McCulloch

Australia is famous for its array of hazardous and venomous wildlife, with snakes ranking high on the list of natural hazards that are not exactly tourist-friendly. Remarkably, the country is home to six of the top twelve deadliest snakes globally, including the Inland Taipan, renowned as the most venomous snake worldwide. It’s common knowledge among Australians to wear sturdy boots while walking bushlands and to exercise caution around tall grass in the summertime.

However, the real question is, what is the actual risk posed by these venomous snakes? What is the probability of a fatal outcome from a snake bite, and how effective is administering first aid for snake bites in such emergencies?

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Always remember, if you or someone you’re with has been bitten by a snake, obtain medical attention as soon as practicable. Antivenom serves as the primary remedy for severe snake venom poisoning. Initiating antivenom treatment as quickly as possible is crucial to halt the possibility of any irreversible effects caused by the venom.

How Dangerous Are Snake Bites?

aggressive rat snake attacking finger


Snake bites in Australia can be dangerous due to the presence of venomous snakes. The country is home to about 170 species of land snakes, some of which are equipped with venom more toxic than any other snakes in the world. However, snake bites are actually quite rare in Australia, and since the development of antivenom, fatalities have been low, between four to six deaths a year.

The Eastern Brown Snake and its relatives cause most of the venomous snake bites in Australia, but despite their very toxic venoms, bites and deaths are rare. It’s important to note that most Australian snakes will rapidly slither away from humans, and the risk of snakebite deaths in Australia is relatively low compared to other countries with large numbers of snake species.

Avoiding Snake Bites

In Australia, people should always be careful in bush areas or long grass and always wear sturdy footwear in such areas. The majority of snakes in Australia avoid humans and attempt to hide or escape if a human comes near. To avoid snake bites, consider the following prevention tips:

  • Avoidance: Stay away from areas where snakes may be hiding, such as tall grass, brush, rocky areas, and fallen logs.
  • Protective Clothing: Wear long pants, high boots, and leather gloves when handling brush and debris.
  • Be Cautious: Never touch or handle a snake, even if you think it is dead or nonvenomous. Recently killed snakes may still bite by reflex.
  • Be Prepared: If in a snake-prone area, bring a partner and note the time of the bite. If snake bite occurs, seek immediate medical attention and do not attempt to trap, kill, or handle the snake.
  • First Aid: If bitten, stay calm, and remove jewelry or tight clothing. Do not apply a tourniquet, cut the wound, wash the bite site, suck out the venom, or apply heat, cold, or any substances to the wound.

It’s important to seek medical help immediately if bitten by a snake, as any delay in treatment could result in serious injury or death

Symptoms Of Snake Bite

The symptoms of a snake bite can vary depending on the type of snake, but may include:

  • Obvious puncture wounds
  • Redness, swelling, bruising, bleeding, or blistering around the bite
  • Severe pain and tenderness at the site of the bite
  • Local bleeding bite marks
  • Nausea, vomiting, or diarrhea
  • Labored breathing (in extreme cases, breathing may stop altogether)
  • Rapid heart rate, weak pulse, low blood pressure
  • Double or blurred vision
  • Metallic, mint, or rubber taste in the mouth
  • Increased salivation and sweating
  • Numbness or tingling around face and/or limbs
  • Muscle twitching
  • Shock
  • Paralysis
  • Discoloration, such as redness and bruising
  • Enlarged lymph nodes in the affected area
  • Diarrhea
  • Burning
  • Convulsions
  • Fainting
  • Dizziness

These symptoms will not be present for every snake bite. It’s worth knowing that many snake bites – including up to 80% of Eastern Brown Snake bites – are what’s called “dry bites”. This is a bite that injects no venom. That’s a great fact to remember when reassuring the victim to keep them calm. But it’s also worth remembering that some snakes inflict a bite with no immediate, or delayed pain. The bites of some venomous snakes (such as the Northern Brown Snake) are relatively painless. As such, while you should reassure the victim, you should also treat any snake bite as potentially venomous.

dialing 000 emergency services for snake bite emergency

Snake Bite First Aid

In the event of a snake bite, it’s crucial to prioritise safety and administer effective first aid. Here’s a summary of the essential steps:

  1. Check for Safety: Ensure the snake is no longer nearby to prevent additional bites. Avoid trying to catch or approach the snake. Note its appearance from a distance for identification purposes.
  2. Comfort and Reassure the Victim: Keep the victim as still as possible to prevent the venom from spreading rapidly. Consider all snake bites as potentially deadly and promptly call triple zero (000) or your local emergency services.
  3. Do Not Wash the Wound: Avoid washing the bite site because venom residues can help experts determine the snake species and appropriate antivenom.
  4. Apply Pressure and Bandage: Use a broad pressure bandage or clean cloth to apply pressure on the wound. This should be firm but not so tight as to cut off circulation.
  5. Keep the Victim Still and Calm: Limit movement, and if feasible, use a splint on the bitten limb. Document the location of the bite and the time when first aid was applied, marking it on the skin if possible.
  6. Seek Professional First Aid Help: If someone with professional first aid training is available, defer to them. They’re trained in handling such emergencies, including the Drs ABCD protocol.

For those living in snake-prone areas or who are avid weekend bushwalkers, acquiring first aid training is strongly advised for dealing effectively with such emergencies. Registered training organisation First Aid Pro, offers both Advanced First Aid Training and a Wilderness First Aid Course to equip you with the skills to handle emergencies in remote settings.

These first aid courses cover poisonous bites and stings as part of the training. They also cover the Drs ABCD protocol, which can be an invaluable tool for remembering how to act in a crisis. Teachers and childcare workers need to be certified in first aid training as part of their role.

Snake Bite Bandage

Applying pressure to the wound to slow down the venom is one of the best things that can be done for a person who has been bitten by a snake. Although a tightly wound bandage can do the job well enough at a pinch. A proper pressure bandage is a more ideal solution, as it will apply the right amount of pressure to the wound without cutting off blood flow.

It is possible to buy a specialised snake bite bandage and keep it in reserve – some Australian pharmacies carry them. But as a general rule, a pressure bandage from the nearest medical kit is generally the most effective and readily available solution.

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What Not To Do For A Snake Bite?

There are various older, well known first aid myths about what to do for a snake bite that used to be common snake bite treatments but have now been proved to be ineffective and quite dangerous. They should not be used under any circumstances. In many cases, these treatments can cause considerably more harm than the actual snake bite.

  • Don’t Apply A Tourniquet – In most cases, tying a tourniquet (a rope or cord used to cut-off blood flow) around a bitten limb is largely ineffective at preventing the spread of venom. In many cases, tourniquets have been tied so tightly around a bitten limb that doctors needed to amputate the limb by the time the victim reached medical aid.
  • Don’t Try To Suck The Venom Out – Scientific tests have shown attempts to suck out venom generally remove less than one-thousandth of the venom. It can also cause infection and even necrosis in the wound (death of the surrounding tissue). And in the process, you can seriously poison yourself – even if you don’t swallow, snake venom can do a lot of harm to your mouth.
  • Don’t Cut The Wound To Drain Blood From The Area – Quite apart from draining very little venom (which often spreads through the lymph system rather than the bloodstream), the cut itself can cause significant harm and is at significant risk of infection.

Summing Up

In conclusion, combatting the dangers of snake bites in Australia requires a blend of awareness, precaution, and timely first aid. Recognising the symptoms and understanding the correct first aid response can make a significant difference in the outcome of such incidents.

Importantly, debunking myths, such as the ineffective and harmful practice of sucking venom out of a bite, is vital. To further enhance your knowledge and preparedness for snake bite emergencies, explore the article at First Aid Pro, which dispels common first aid myths, including those about snake bites. Check out the article here and become better prepared to effectively handle these potentially life-threatening situations.

Frequently Asked Questions

The symptoms can vary but often include puncture wounds, pain and tenderness at the bite site, swelling, redness, nausea, vomiting, labored breathing, rapid heart rate, blurred vision, and numbness. Remember, some venomous snake bites, like those from the Northern Brown Snake, can initially be painless or show no immediate symptoms.

First, ensure the area is safe and the snake is no longer a threat. Do not attempt to catch or kill the snake. Keep the victim calm and still to prevent the spread of venom. Call emergency services (000 in Australia) immediately. Apply a pressure bandage to the wound without washing it, as venom traces are crucial for identification and treatment.

No, attempting to suck venom out of a bite is not only ineffective but also dangerous. It can lead to infection in the wound and potential poisoning to the person attempting to suck out the venom. This method has been debunked and should not be used under any circumstances.

Yes, wearing protective clothing such as long pants, high boots, and leather gloves can significantly reduce the risk of snake bites, especially in areas where snakes are common. This is particularly important when walking through bushlands or tall grass.

No, applying a tourniquet is not recommended for snake bites. It can be ineffective in stopping venom spread and may cause more harm, including the risk of amputation due to restricted blood flow. The correct method is to apply a firm but not too tight pressure bandage on the wound.

The content on this website offers general insights regarding health conditions and potential treatments. It is not intended as, and should not be construed as, medical advice. If you are facing a medical emergency, dial 000 immediately and follow the guidance provided.

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