Imagine this: you’re hiking along a remote desert trail and all of a sudden, you see a rattlesnake. The snake starts shaking its rattle and you know that you need to get out of there fast.
Unfortunately, despite your best efforts, the snake decides to attack and you now have snake venom coursing through your veins. Do you know what you need to do to stay alive?
If you don’t, then worry not – we’re here to help. Here are seven ways NOT to die from a rattlesnake bite on your next outdoor adventure:
1. Avoid Snake Bites
Okay, this one isn’t really a way to survive a rattlesnake bite but is still valuable advice nonetheless. They say an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of pain, so this is a tip to take to heart.
It turns out that snake bites are actually quite rare in North America, and when they do happen they’re rarely fatal. At the same time, most snake bites happen to people’s hands and arms. When you consider the fact that most snakes exist at ground level while most people’s hands and arms are anywhere from 3-5 feet (0.9-1.5m) above the ground, then it’s easy to see that something’s amiss.
Many people end up with snake bites in North America from trying to handle a snake or take a selfie with one. Our advice? Don’t. Leave the snake alone and it’ll probably leave you alone too.
2. Don’t Try to Catch the Snake
It’s a common misconception that you need to positively identify the snake species that bit you to be able to get proper treatment and antivenom in the hospital. In North America, we have so few venomous snakes that this is not necessary. In fact, you’re more likely to get bitten again trying to catch the snake.
Thus, after you get bitten, don’t try to catch, kill, get a photo of, or do anything else to the snake that will aggravate it. Oh, and definitely don’t bring it to the hospital with you – the nursing staff and doctors certainly don’t want a snake in the operating room.
3. Stay Calm
This one’s easier said than done, we know, but it’s really important that you don’t panic after getting bitten by a snake. There are two main kinds of snakes in North America: crotalids (also known as pit vipers), which secrete a hemotoxin (blood-attacking venom); and elapids, which have a neurotoxin (brain-attacking venom).
Needless to say, if you get bitten by a rattlesnake, the last thing you’ll want is to help either of these venoms move through your veins any more quickly than they have to. Panicking gets your heart rate up and causes the venom to spread faster through your body.
Once you get over the initial shock of the snake bite, take a deep breath, relax, and start coming up with a plan for how you’re going to get to help.
4. Don’t Listen to Urban Legends
There are many myths out there about how to deal with a snake bite before you get to the hospital. Unfortunately, pretty much all of them are useless or dangerous. Here’s what you shouldn’t do after getting bitten by a snake:
- Don’t use a tourniquet
- Don’t apply ice
- Don’t cut the wound open and try to suck out the venom
- Don’t drink caffeine
- Don’t drink alcohol
- Don’t flush the wound with water
- Don’t shock the wound with electricity
5. Take Swift Action
If you do get bitten by a snake, swift and appropriate action can help limit the potential damage of the venom and increase recovery time after the incident. Here’s what you do want to do:
First things first, remain calm. Then, remove all jewelry and constricting clothing before the bite site swells. Next, position the bite below the level of the heart to help slow the spread of the venom.
Finally, you’ll want to clean the wound, but don’t rinse it out with water as this can help the venom spread faster. Cover the wound with a clean, dry dressing or bandage and get ready to go to the hospital.
6. Take Photos
This might sound a little weird, but it’s really helpful to professional medical staff if you take photos of the bite site at regular intervals after the original bite. By noting the time that the bite happened and taking photos of the wound every 15-30 minutes, you can create a visual timeline that shows how quickly the venom is spreading.
This information can be invaluable to medical providers, who need to know how the wound is progressing to come up with the best plan to treat it. With this information, they can better decide how to go about treating your bite and what interventions might be needed.
7. Go to a Hospital
Perhaps this one goes without saying, but if you get bitten by a snake, you should go to a hospital. Even if your snake bite doesn’t look bad, things could quickly spiral out of control, in which case you want to be comfortably lounging on a hospital bed and not anxiously awaiting an ambulance to rush you there.
Immediately after getting a snake bite, you should head to a hospital. If you have the option between a number of different hospitals, it’s best to go with the largest one in your area as they’re more likely to stock antivenom for snake bites. But, if you’re having difficulty breathing or things seem to be rapidly getting worse, head to the closest hospital.