Snake Bites

Guest Blog by Tina Bayle, MSN, RN, CPNP- PC/AC

It's springtime in Texas!  The days are getting longer and warmer.  The trees and flowers are blooming.  With the days getting warmer, it's time to start looking out for snakes!  Snakes, being cold blooded, rely on their environment to be warm in order for them to be more active.  Snakes are slower in the mornings since it is usually cooler.  This has brought close encounters with snakes and resulting snakebites.  Some children (and adults alike) will see a snake stretched out and perfectly still trying to soak in the warmth of the sun.  Assuming the snake is dead or injured, the child will pick up the snake and OUCH!  The bite happens.  As scary of a scenario as this is, there are few fatalities from snakebites each year.   

What Venomous Snakes Are In Texas? 

Copperhead: The adult Copperhead has reddish brown bands on a lighter colored body.  But juvenile Copperheads have grey bodies and bands and have not developed their distinctive copper color so they are often picked up accidentally.  Copperheads like to hide under leaves and logs and try to blend in and hide in their environment.  Although typically not aggressive, Copperheads will strike to defend themselves without warning. 

Cottonmouth: Also called Water Moccasins, Cottonmouths get their name for their white mouths that they open and display when threatened.  Their bodies are heavy and dark brown to black with dark bands.  Young Cottonmouths have brightly marked bands and have yellow on the tip on their tails.  They tend to be more aggressive than other venomous snakes, but very rarely chase after humans. 

Rattlesnake: Known for their famous tails, Rattlesnakes are probably the most recognized of the venomous snakes.  Rattlers will give a warning by rattling their tails and try to escape before striking.  Rattlesnakes can be found from the rocky desert areas of Texas to the eastern pines.  The Western Diamondback has some of the most potent venom of all the snakes in Texas.  But once again, encounters and fatal bites are quite rare. 

Coral Snake: Did you know that the Coral Snake is related to the Cobra?  Coral snakes are found in the southeastern part of the state in woodlands and the coastal plains.  They are brightly colored snakes with a broad black ring, a narrow yellow ring and a broad red ring.  The red and yellow rings always are next to each other for this snake.  The Milk snake has similar markings but is harmless.  A way to remember the Coral snake markings is 'Red on yellow, kill a fellow; red on black, venom lack'. 

How to Avoid a Snake Bites

  • When in nature centers, parks with lakes and even fields, always wear shoes, (not just flip flops).  This is true even within cities, suburbs and rural areas. (I have seen snake bites from Plano, Flower Mound and Allen, just to name a few)  
  • Keep the lawn around your home cut low and keep wood and rocks piles away from your house.  (These are great snake hiding places!) 
  • Never put your foot or hand in a hole where you cannot see the bottom.  Snakes like to borrow other animals' burrows or hide in holes. 
  • Check before stepping down when going over logs and fallen trees. 
  • Look up and down at lakes when there are trees and bushes near the water.  Snakes like to hide in and under bushes and even up in trees! 
  • If you see a dead or injured snake, leave it alone.  Don't pick it up or poke at with a stick.  It could just be sunning itself and spring into action!  And of note, if a snake was recently killed, there is a reflex that causes the jaw to bite...even when dead!! 

What to DO IF a Snake Bite Occurs

  • Always assume the snake is venomous and seek immediate medical care.  Most venomous bites are instantly painful and swell within a few minutes.  (Of note, it is best to go to an emergency department attached to a hospital, as they tend to have access to anti-venom.  The free standing ERs usually do not have antivenom.) 
  • Try to identify the snake that inflicted the snakebite without risking another person being bitten.  Here's where cameras on cell phones are priceless. 
  • Keep the bite victim, yourself and other members of your group as calm as possible.  This helps reduce the spread of venom in the victim. 
  • Remove jewelry, shoes or tight fitting clothing around the site of the bite.  These areas will often swell significantly. 
  • Reduce movement of the limb that was bitten by using a splint and lowering below the level of the heart to slow the spread of venom.  It is not recommended to use a tourniquet as this decreases too much blood flow to the limb and causes more tissue damage to the site. 
  • Wash area with antibacterial soap or clean with hand sanitizer if available. 
  • Do NOT cut or try to suck the venom out of the wound.  (It may work in the movies but really does not work in real life!) 
  • Do not apply ice or other cold compresses to the bite.  This will also lead to worsening tissue damage. 
  • Avoid giving aspirin or ibuprofen for pain as this can lead to more bleeding. 
  • Avoid alcohol as this dilates blood vessels and spreads the venom faster. 

In closing, if you see a snake just let it be.  Snakes, both venomous and nonvenomous, are important to nature.  They keep the rodent population in check and small snakes eat bugs and other pests.  Enjoy the spring and beautiful weather but be aware that snakes are also out enjoying the warm weather as well.