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Scorpions to Snakes: Here’s What Not to Do if Stung or Bitten

When spring and summer arrive, soon you might start to hear about snakes sunbathing on trails and scorpions skittering about. These crazy critters can add a little bit of suspense to your day if you encounter them.

While the likelihood of dying from a scorpion sting or snakebite is rare, Bryan Kuhn, PharmD, a pharmacist and poison education specialist at Banner - University Medical Center Phoenix, shared some do’s and don’ts you should consider if you or someone you know is bitten or stung.

Some Do’s and Don’ts for Scorpion Stings and Snakebites

Scorpion Stings
  • Do not apply ice to the sting site
    • Instead: Ice may feel good when applied but once removed, the pain will return with worse intensity. Instead, use a cool compress. Use several small towels and soak them in a bowl of ice water. Apply one of the cool compresses to the sting site and rotate it with another freshly cooled towel from the bowl as needed.
  • Do not try to trap or retrieve the scorpion for identification
    • Instead: This puts you at risk for another sting. You can instead kill the scorpion and dispose of it if it’s inside your home. “The identification won’t alter what symptoms to look for or what treatment options you have,” Dr. Kuhn said. “While bark scorpions are a smaller relative to other species of scorpions, “baby scorpions” are not more harmful or deadly. The age of the scorpion doesn’t determine the extent to which symptoms will occur, just the species.”
Snakebites
  • Do Not Panic
    • Instead: Remain calm and call 911. Then call Banner Poison & Drug Information Center at 800-222-1222.
  • Do not attempt to watch for symptoms at home
    • Instead: All rattlesnake bites MUST be evaluated in an emergency department, sometimes for at least 24 hours. “Obvious signs of an envenomation (the site of the bite) include bruising and swelling, but the venom can also effect different components in your bloodstream that don’t present with obvious signs,” Dr. Kuhn said.
  • Do not try to suck out the venom from the bite site
    • Instead: Go to the hospital for treatment. Sucking out the venom is not effective at removing venom and may introduce more bacteria at the site of the bite, which can result in an infection.
  • Do not apply a tourniquet or other constrictive dressing around the bite site or limb
    • Instead: Don’t wrap or tourniquet the bite. This does not prevent venom from moving around the bloodstream to other parts of the body. It does decrease the amount of blood flow to the bite area but could further worsen the venom-related effects. This also applies to jewelry and other constricting clothing or items.
  • Do not cut around the bite site or use a venom removal instrument
    • Instead: Don’t touch the site of the bite, and just seek immediate medical attention. Trying to make the bite site bleed won’t eliminate venom from the body. It is painful and will likely increase the chances of an infection and disfiguration from the cut.
  • Do not wrap the affected limb
    • Instead: It’s best to leave the bite site alone. You can use a non-compressive splint to immobilize and straighten the limb.
  • Do not try to trap or retrieve the snake for identification
    • Instead: This will put you at greater risk for another bite. Leave the snake alone and head to the hospital. Identifying the type of snake that bit you won’t alter the type of medical management offered at a hospital.

When Hospitalization is Necessary

Scorpion Stings

The bark scorpion is the only species of scorpion able to produce severe enough symptoms to potentially require a hospitalization. Most adults can tolerate these severe symptoms at home with a cool compress and over-the-counter pain relievers.

That said, if the pain becomes unbearable despite home remedies, it’s time to go to a hospital. Allergic reactions are rare with scorpion stings, but if you experience any difficulty breathing and/or chest pains, call 911.

Children younger than 5 years old are more likely to require a hospital visit. After calling the Poison Center, a child with excessive drooling, roving eye movements or inconsolable crying may require antivenom medication that can only be administered in a hospital (most often in the emergency department). Older children may not develop excessive drooling, but like adults, the pain and discomfort may not be successfully treated with over-the-counter remedies. This is another reason to seek medical attention at a hospital.

Snakebites

All snakebites must be evaluated in the emergency department. Even dry bites should be evaluated by a physician. Baseline labs and a physician’s assessment must be made before a diagnosis of a dry bite can occur. The Poison Center will typically follow-up with patients at home within 24 hours to ensure there is no development of related symptoms. Almost all bites (aside from dry bites) will require at least a 24-hour hospitalization with the potential for repeat laboratory monitoring, wound care and antivenom administration. Upon discharge from the hospital, the Poison Center will follow-up with the patient at home for 2-3 weeks.

Big Takeaway

“The most important thing to remember is what NOT to do,” Dr. Kuhn said. “Snakebites and scorpion stings are rare, so just be mindful where you stick your hands and feet and be aware of what might be hiding in a hole or sunning itself on a ledge.”

Stung by snake or scorpion infographic

References:

https://www.cdc.gov/niosh/topics/snakes/default.html

https://www.cdc.gov/niosh/topics/insects/scorpions.html

Safety Poison Prevention
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