What Are The Presenting Features Of A Rattlesnake Bite And What To Do About It?

Rattlesnakes are quite common all across the North and South America. In fact, almost all the states in the United States have rattlesnakes. Biting is the last resort that rattlesnakes adopt when they feel they are in danger. Hiding and rattling is their most common defense mechanism. Rattlesnake Bite can be extremely dangerous and even at times fatal for a person. According to the World health Organization, there are approximately 2 million snakebites every year globally resulting in about 100,000 fatalities.[1,2,3]

Rattlesnake Bite is a medical emergency and the person should be immediately taken to a nearby hospital for treatment. Snakes of all kinds normally avoid people and tend to hide when they feel that someone or something is around them that may cause harm to them. They tend to bite only when they feel that their lives are in danger. This is the natural history of all snakes, including rattlesnakes.[1,2,3]

Another fact about rattlesnakes is that even after dying they can bite due to a continuous reflex reaction. The area around the bite will swell up immediately and there will be a definite change of color of the skin. The best way to treat Rattlesnake Bite is to immobilize the area and give the person an antivenom medication. If treatment is delayed or in cases where a person has an allergic reaction then prognosis for a Rattlesnake Bite is quite guarded and the bite is often fatal.[1,2,3] The article below highlights the presenting features of a Rattlesnake Bite and what are the treatment options for it in detail.

What Are The Presenting Features Of A Rattlesnake Bite?

As stated above, biting is the last line of defense for a rattlesnake. In case if a person gets bitten by a rattlesnake then he or she will experience immediate bleeding from the injured area. As the venom starts to take effect the person will start having problems with breathing. The vision starts to get blurry. The blood pressure will then start to fall significantly and the eyes will start to droop.[3]

The person will then start to complain about nausea and may even have vomiting. The area around the bite will become numb and get paralyzed. The area around the bite will swell up and there will be clear skin discoloration. As the rattlesnake venom starts to spread through the body the person will start to complain of excessive thirst and the pulse starts to go down. If still there is a delay in the person getting antivenom medication then it becomes very difficult to save the patient from Rattlesnake Bite.[3]

What Can Be Done About Rattlesnake Bite?

As stated, Rattlesnake Bite is a medical emergency. While the patient is being taken to the hospital; it is equally important to keep the patient calm and reassuring that nothing will happen. While waiting for the emergency room services to arrive, there are certain things that can be done to ensure that the venom does not spread throughout the body. The first thing to do is to wash the area of the bite thoroughly and wrap it tightly with a bandage. This will slow the spread of the venom.[3]

However, before wrapping the bandage it should be checked whether the area is warm or discoloured. Then wrap the bandage around the area of the bite tightly. The best way to wrap is to start from the point farthest from the heart and cover a large area of the injured site like the calf or the arm. Figure of eight style of wrapping is best for Rattlesnake Bite. It is also important to check for any skin discoloration in the toes and fingers. The bandage should not be too tight or too loose.[3]

The injured area should be kept lower than the level of the heart. If the snake is dead then it should also be taken to the hospital as it becomes easier to identify the venom so that the best suited antivenom medication can be given. There are also certain things that should never be done in cases of Rattlesnake Bite before the emergency services arrive. The University of Maryland recommends that if a person suffers a Rattlesnake Bite then it should be ensured that the person is allowed to rest and not exert in any way.[3]

It has also been recommended never to apply a cold compress over the bite wound. Never cut the area with a knife as it can lead to infection and more complications. Some people try to suck out the venom from the area of the bite. This is also something that should never be done. Giving any kind of pain medication is also not advised for a person with Rattlesnake Bite. A person with Rattlesnake Bite should also not be given anything to eat or drink as this also can be detrimental for the health of the person. The position of the area of bite should never be taken above the level of the heart.[3]

The most common complication from a Rattlesnake Bite is anaphylactic reaction. This occurs in people who are allergic to snake venom. This is again a medical emergency as an anaphylactic shock can sometimes be fatal. A person with anaphylactic shock due to Rattlesnake Bite will experience immediate outbreak of hives at the site of the bite along with erythema. The face, lips, and tongue will swell up almost immediately after the bite. The breathing will become difficult. The person may also start having diarrhea and vomiting.[3]

Anaphylactic reaction also causes the blood pressure to drop significantly. If this occurs then the patient will complain of dizziness, confusion, and loss of consciousness. In such a scenario, it is best to not wait for the emergency services to arrive and take the patient immediately to the hospital by a personal vehicle. A person with a Rattlesnake Bite can also experience a shock. The symptoms are quite similar to an anaphylactic reaction but the patient will lose consciousness and collapse after the snake bite. The skin will become cold and clammy. The breath will be shallow and there will be profuse sweating. In such a scenario, it is best to lie down the patient and elevate the legs. Ensure that the patient is kept warm by wrapping a blanket or a coat.[3]

In conclusion, Rattlesnake Bite can be fatal, especially for people who are allergic to snake venom. If a person sustains a Rattlesnake Bite then it is recommended to follow the recommendations mentioned above. If a person shows signs of anaphylactic reaction or shock then it is better to not wait for emergency room services to come and take the patient immediately to the nearby hospital by personal vehicle or take help from the forest department.[3]

Some people may not even be aware that they are allergic to venom and thus it is advisable to take extra precautions while traveling in the woods for camping or hiking especially if the area is infested with snakes.[3]

Generally, the forest department puts up a warning sign if the area has Rattlesnakes. These areas need to be avoided. It should be noted that snakes only bite when they feel that their lives are in danger. Thus it is recommended that even if someone sees a Rattlesnake, that he or she should not do anything that would startle or harm the snake. This is because there is a higher chance of the snake biting the person. Another reason for this is that it is illegal to kill snakes in some states in the US.[3]

When entering a dense forest or wood it is best to keep tapping the area in front as this will warn the snake and in most probability it will run away. It is also recommended to wear long pants and boots so that even if there is a Rattlesnake Bite it does not harm the skin. Even a person sees a Rattlesnake it is best to stay at least 5 feet from it. Attempt should be made to keep calm and not to alarm or provoke the snake. It should also be noted that if a Rattlesnake is dead to not touch the snake as it may still bite due to a natural reactions that stays for hours after the snake has died.[3]


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