Rattlesnakes are one of four poisonous snakes that inhabit the United States. There are several different varieties of rattle snake that can be found across all of the contiguous 48 states of the United States: the Prairie Rattlesnake, the Eastern Diamondback, the Timber Rattlesnake, and the Western Diamondback. Some of the rattlesnake species are comparably small, while other species can grow as long as 8 feet. The Diamondback Rattlesnake, located in western states, is responsible for more snake bite-related deaths in the U.S. than any other snake.
The venom of a rattlesnake is hemotoxic, which means that it causes damage to tissues, especially tissues of the circulatory system. The venom also contains neurotoxic compounds that interfere with the function of the nervous system. Interestingly, the venom of a juvenile rattlesnake actually contains a higher concentration of neurotoxins than that of a mature adult snake.
If you get bitten by a snake, and you don’t know what kind of snake it was, you should inspect the bite wound. If there are two visible fang marks at the site of the bite, the snake was poisonous. There will also be a significant amount of pain and inflammation at the site of the bite wound. You may also feel nauseated and weak, or have a strange rubber-like taste in your mouth.
If you have been bitten by a rattlesnake, it is extremely important to remain calm. If you get worked up or start running around, it will increase your heart rate and blood pressure, thus pumping the venom through your veins at an accelerated rate. You will need to get away from the snake. As you move away, try to get a good look at the snake (from a safe distance if at all possible), because antivenom is specific to the type of snake that bit you. Do not make any attempts to catch the snake, though, because you will be in danger of getting bitten again. Call 911 (emergency medical assistance) immediately, or as soon as possible.
After you call for assistance, immobilize the area of the bite as much as possible. You will also want to remove anything that could become constricting as the area swells, things like watches, rings, and shoes. Try to fashion some kind of a splint, keeping the bitten area lower than your heart. If you happen to have a snake bite kit, it is okay to try to suck out the poison, but do not cut the bite area or put your mouth on it to suck out the poison. Both cutting and your mouth can introduce bacteria to the wound, adding the risk of dangerous complication to the already very serious threat of the snake bite, itself. Wash the area with soap and water if you are able, but do not apply ice to the bite area, as it will make the bite worse.
Do not tourniquet a bitten limb, as cutting off the blood supply will put you at risk of requiring amputation. However, it is alright to tie a piece of cloth or rope around the bite to slow the flow of venom into your bloodstream. You need to make sure that it is not tied too tight, so make sure that you are able to slip a finger under the tie. Make sure to check the tie frequently and loosen it as the area swells.
If you need to move to call or get help, make sure to wait for about twenty minutes after the bite occurred in order to slow the flow of venom through your veins as much as possible. If you know that it is going to be a long time, say several hours, before help can reach you, lie still with the bitten area lower than your heart. It would also be good to use a coat or blanket to cover yourself up and preserve your body heat.
The best choice is to avoid getting bitten in the first place. If you spend a lot of time outside, hiking, biking, etc., it is wise to learn about the types of poisonous snakes that you could encounter, their habits and areas where they prefer to live. Because snakes are cold blooded, they are most active when the weather is warm, so be extra cautious of snakes in warm weather. Rattle snakes have their built-in alert system when they feel threatened, they rattle their tales, so take heed and move away from an aggravated rattlesnake as quickly and quietly as possible to avoid getting bitten.