While relatively rare even in regions where they’re endemic, a bite from a venomous snake constitutes a serious medical emergency. Depending on the species of snake, severity of envenomation, and size and health of the individual bitten, a bite from a venomous snake can result in disfigurement, permanent loss of function, amputation, or in some rare cases, death. It’s imperative anyone living in or visiting a region where venomous snakes live be capable of recognizing the symptoms of a venomous snake bite. While identification of the snake is one way to know, it’s sometimes unfeasible and usually dangerous to actively pursue identification of a snake that has bitten you. A reliable, safer way is to be on the lookout for the following warning signs.
Severe pain is one of the surest signs of envenomation. A bite from a venomous snake will be considerably more painful than the bite from a non-venomous snake of comparable size. Cyto, cardio, and hemotoxic venoms (produced by most species of rattlesnake, Cottonmouths, and Copperheads) differ markedly in chemistry and mechanism of action, but will all rapidly begin breaking down and digesting the tissue surrounding the bite. This results in excruciating pain and stiffness in the affected limb, while neurotoxic venom, produced by coral snakes and some species of rattlesnake, may not be immediately noticeable, but will eventually become agonizing as the venom hijacks the nervous system and overwhelms many of the channels that the body uses to signal pain.
While most venomous snakes endemic to the United States will cause rapid or immediate pain, certain species that produce neurotoxic venom may be asymptomatic for over twelve hours. As a rule, severe pain at any point within twenty-four hours of a snake bite should be treated as a potential envenomation requiring medical assistance.