Once Bitten: Dos and Don’ts of Rattlesnake Bites
by Marshall Medical Center
Summer and fall are rattlesnake season in Northern California. Though their bites are rarely fatal, rattlesnakes are dangerous and their attack can cause a serious medical emergency. If you get bitten, call 911 and seek treatment immediately.
The most obvious symptom of a rattlesnake bite is the puncture marks made by their large fangs, where you may experience pain, tingling or burning. Other symptoms include:
- numbness in the face or limbs
- nausea or vomiting
- blurred vision
- difficulty breathing
Once bitten, the first thing to do is get away from the snake as quickly as possible to avoid a second bite. Don’t try to catch the snake but make a note of its size and color. This will help medical professionals identify which species it is. Seek medical assistance as soon as possible; calling an ambulance is a good idea. While you wait, stay calm, don’t raise the bitten area above the level of your heart, stay as still as possible and remove any tight clothing or jewelry as you may start to swell. Don’t wash the wound, but place a clean bandage on it. Don’t ice nor apply a tourniquet, letting the wound bleed will expel some of the venom. You may have seen this on TV, but don’t suck the venom with your mouth as you are not only exposing the venom to your mouth but also introducing bacteria to the wound.
Once you’ve been treated in the emergency room, you’ll likely be prescribed pain medication, Benadryl and an antibiotic. Be sure to make a follow up appointment with your primary care provider to ensure the wound is healing properly.
Northern California has beautiful terrain. Don’t let rattlesnakes stop you from venturing outdoors. With proper gear like boots and other protective gear, awareness of your surroundings and some knowledge about these reptiles, you can continue to enjoy nature.