“If you get bit by a poisonous snake, you should try and suck the venom out.” – Fact or Fiction?

One of the most common fears among the human population is that of snakes – and rightfully so, for certain types of snake venom can kill when injected into the human bloodstream.  It had been said, that if an individual suffers from a snakebite (yes, this is actually one word), you should create a tourniquet above the wound and immediately suck the venom out, preventing any further spread of venom and harm to the body.  But, is this method the most effective (or even effective at all) in reversing the damage caused by the venomous, slithering creatures?

According to a study conducted by the New England Journal of Medicine in 2002, it most definitely is not.  In fact, using a tourniquet can damage nerves and blood flow, possibly leading to the amputation of affected limbs or deathly low blood pressure levels, and sucking out the venom can actually do more harm than good.  When an individual places their mouth over the site of the bite, their saliva further contaminates the wound and makes it harder to treat (not to mention, the individual also runs the risk of inadvertently allowing venom to enter their bloodstream if they have any small cuts in their mouth).

Researchers also found that venom travels through the blood stream much faster than originally thought, and even devices designed to suck the bad stuff out of a snakebite rarely extract any venom.  Medical professionals recommend that if you suffer from a snakebite, you should contact emergency services immediately (who will usually provide the affected individual with a treatment called antivenin, which is incredibly effective), and in the meantime remain calm and keep the area of infection below the position of your heart.  Additionally, you should not perform any movement that may cause your heart rate to increase – this includes killing the snake that bit you, for “due to reflex, a snake can actually bite for up to an hour after it’s dead.” (Check out this article for more info!)

The most effective medicine in treating snakebites is to avoid them altogether.  The article I’ve linked to in the previous paragraph gives the following advice: “Try to avoid areas where a snake might hide, like under rocks and logs. We probably don’t have to tell you that it’s not a good idea to pick up or tease snakes, even if you think they’re not venomous. Don’t provoke a snake, either. When you’re hiking in snake-populated areas, wear long pants and boots. If you’re about to step into an area where you can’t see your feet (like heavy underbrush), tap first with a walking stick.”

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4 comments

  1. This sounds terrifying and makes me think more about snakes. How painful is a bite? Could they bite through thin clothes?

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