Doctors Oz and Roizen give you the heads-up for emergency preparation—specifically if you find yourself the victim of a sneaky snake.
Q: Is it a myth that if you’re bitten by a venomous snake that you should cut the wound and then suck the poison out? What's the best way to ensure that the venom doesn’t spread until you can get medical help?
A: First, get beyond the striking distance of that snake—at least 6 feet. Unless you know what type of snake you’re dealing with, treat it as venomous. Keep your wound below your heart level to help prevent the venom from spreading, lying down if need be to get your arm or leg in the right position. You’re right about sucking the venom out being a myth: Do not cut the bite. The additional tissue damage may actually increase the diffusion of the toxins throughout the body. And never try to suck out the venom by mouth—this could raise the risk for infection. You can try the suction cup in a snakebite kit if doing so won’t delay other needed treatment, but suctioning seldom provides any advantages.
Next, drive to get medical help as fast as possible. While en route (hopefully a buddy is driving!), do the following: Call 911 and tell them you’ve sustained a snakebite. If you know the species that bit you, describe it so operators can direct you to the Emergency Department (ED) that carries the antivenin for that snake species. (If you can take a picture of the snake without getting close, do so, and email it to the ED you’re headed to.)
If you’re not driving, keep lying down with the wound below your heart. Cover the wound with a loose, sterile bandage, and remove any jewelry, shoes, or other restricting items from the bitten extremity (it WILL swell). To help stem your lymphatic flow—and hence the toxins—tie a light band of wide, soft material (like a scarf or shredded clothing) about 2 inches above and below the bite. Make it about as tight as the band the nurse applies when taking a blood test. Just don’t place the bands on either side of a joint (such as above and below the knee or elbow). Do not apply cold and/or ice packs. Recent studies indicate that application of cold or ice makes the injury much worse. And don’t apply a tourniquet—doing so could result in the loss of the limb.