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Snakebite (cont.)

When to Seek Medical Care

Any snakebite victim should go to a hospital emergency department. Identification of the snake as venomous or nonvenomous should not be used as criteria whether to seek medical care. If someone can identify the type of snake, a call to the emergency department will help the staff prepare for quick treatment with antivenin, if needed. Bites by nonvenomous species require proper wound care. Victims should receive a tetanus booster if they have not had one within the last 5 years.

Snakebite Diagnosis

Diagnosis of snakebite is made based on the history of the event. Identification or description of the snake can be helpful in developing a treatment plan as not all snakes are venomous, and different kinds of antivenom exist for different species of snakes that are venomous. The doctor also looks for evidence of fang marks or local trauma in the area of the bite. Pain and swelling accompany many snakebites, venomous or not.

  • The doctor treats breathing problems, shock, and/or immediately life-threatening injuries even before a full workup is complete.
  • The wound will be examined and cleaned.
  • If a patient has symptoms, the doctor will likely send blood and urine samples to the laboratory to look for evidence of bleeding, problems in the blood clotting system, kidney problems, or muscle death. These problems may not be initially apparent, but can have dire consequences if missed.
  • The patient is monitored to look for worsening symptoms at the wound site, or worsening systemic symptoms in the breathing or cardiovascular systems.
  • A rare complication in very swollen limbs is compartment syndrome. Limbs are divided into compartments of muscles, blood vessels, and nerves. Severe swelling can cut off the blood circulation to a compartment. When the circulation is cut off, the patient usually has severe pain and numbness. Later, the limb may get white and cold. If not treated in time, the limb may need to be amputated.
Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 5/12/2016

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