Why get treated for a snake bite?
Oklahoma is home to about 46 species of snakes, including seven that are venomous to humans.
Five species of rattlesnakes, one type of water moccasins (Cottonmouths) and one species of copperhead can be found across Oklahoma. As the weather warms up, snakes are likely to be more active. Copperheads are the most common cause of snake bites in Oklahoma.
It's generally recommended that you seek emergency care after a snake bite. Snake bites, especially in children, can be deadly if not treated.
The severity of a snake bite will range, depending on the type of snake, the size of the snake and also the snake's intent. Sometimes when a snake bites, it's a warning, and it won't use much venom. The snake can decide how much venom it will inject.
Not everyone gets treated for a snake bite. For example, some people who are bitten by a copperhead aren't treated because the snake's venom isn't as potent as other snakes. However, it's generally best to go to the emergency room after suffering a snake bite.
What happens when you're treated?
On your way to the hospital, remove any jewelry. Do not apply a cold compress, ice or a tourniquet. Also, don't take any pain medication unless a doctor has instructed you to do so. You can also call the National Poison Control Center at (800) 222-1222.
You might have seen a movie where a character tries to “suck the poison out” of a snake bite. This technique is no longer recommended. It's also not recommended that a person tries to extract the venom with a knife.
When you arrive at the emergency room, a nurse or other medical professional likely will ask you if you know what kind of snake bit you.
You should not bring the snake with you to the hospital. However, if you have a family member or friend nearby who can safely take a photo of the snake, that can sometimes be helpful in treating your bite. If you don't have a photo, it's helpful if you or someone with you can tell the hospital staff the color and size of the snake.
A medical team will assess the severity of your bite. They might run a test to determine whether the venom is affecting your blood's ability to clot. They will also try to determine whether the venom is spreading from your hand to the rest of your body.
The general treatment for a snake bite is an infusion of antivenin. It cannot completely reverse the damage from the bite, but it can prevent venom from spreading and causing clotting issues.
The dose of the antivenin will depend on the size of the snake and how much progression or damage you're seeing from the bite itself.
Antivenin can be a costly treatment. It cost a hospital about $800 per vial, and they might charge you between $1,000 and $2,000 per vial.
Does it hurt?
The snake bite itself likely will hurt substantially more than the treatment.
About 10 years ago, the antivenin used in hospitals frequently caused people to break out in hives and suffer from a drop in blood pressure. However, the antivenin used today is less likely to cause these symptoms.
Hopefully, the antivenin will alleviate some of the pain from the bite.
What are the risk factors?
Some people might suffer an allergic reaction to the antivenin. You might also experience some itchiness and a drop in blood pressure. You might develop hives, but it's rare that this occurs. You might also feel as though you have the flu, which is also a rare symptom.
What's the recovery time?
You might also be in the hospital for a few days, depending on the severity. Your recovery time will vary, depending on what type of snake bit you.
A snake bite can cause temporary or permanent nerve damage. For example, if you're bitten on the hand, you might have several weeks of not being able to use your hand.
In children, a full recovery takes between one to three weeks. For adults, it can range from three weeks to several months.
What's the follow-up?
For copperhead bites, you most likely won't have much of a follow-up. With rattlesnake bites, some people will rebound a week after the bite, and they can suffer from problems with blood clotting.
It's important to follow your doctor's instructions and check in when you're asked to.
Source: Dr. William Banner, medical director at Oklahoma Poison Control Center; The Sam Roberts Noble Foundation; The Mayo Clinic; the National Health Service.