Forget everything you saw in the movies about rattlesnake bites

This time of year, rattlesnakes are active and calls to the California Poison Control System are increasing about what to do about bites.

For starters, says Dr. Rais Vohra, forget everything you’ve seen in the movies about treating a rattlesnake bite.

“If you get bitten by a rattlesnake and do something you’ve seen happen in the movies, you’re just going to make the situation worse,” said Vohra, medical director of CPCS’s Fresno/Madera division.

“For example, movies like to show a cowboy, even though it could be anyone, sucking the venom from a rattlesnake bite. That’s a great dramatic image, but it’s actually a bad thing to do. It is not effective and can be harmful.”

Here are the “cowboy remedies” often depicted in movies that you shouldn’t do:

Do not use a tourniquet: This will not effectively reduce the spread of poison and it can damage body tissue and lead to other serious complications.

Don’t suck out the poison: This is also ineffective and can cause the poison to enter your bloodstream through cuts or sores. And there is a possibility that you may swallow the poison.

Do not use a suction device: This is another ineffective technique that can cause additional injuries, such as damaged blood vessels.

Do not cut the bite wound: This does not drain the venom or relieve pressure in the bite area. However, it can result in an infection.

Do not apply ice or any other freezing agent to the bite: This does not help stop the poison from spreading and can lead to tissue damage.

How to properly treat a rattlesnake bite

CPCS says it receives about 300 reports of rattlesnake bites each year.

“Rattlesnakes tend to avoid people, so the chance of being bitten by one person is small, especially if you take the right precautions,” says Dr. Vohra. “But if you, someone else or your pet is bitten by a rattlesnake, there are some important things you should do.”

Get to a hospital as soon as possible: Call 911 immediately.

Call the Poison Hotline for additional advice: The number is 1 (800) 222-1222.

Stay calm: Don’t panic, limit your movements.

Reduce the flow of poison: You can do this by positioning your body so that the bite remains below your heart.

Remove tight clothing and jewelry such as rings: This will help reduce swelling.

Take a bitten pet to a vet: Many veterinarians carry rattlesnake anti-venom.

Getting help as quickly as possible is crucial

Severe or even life-threatening symptoms can occur within minutes or several hours after a rattlesnake bite.

It can cause extreme pain and swelling at the bite site, excessive bleeding, nausea, swelling in the mouth and throat making it difficult to breathe, dizziness, drooling, collapse and shock. In rare cases, a bite can be fatal.

Always be aware of your surroundings and never touch a rattlesnake, even if it appears dead. (Shutterstock)

Prevention is the best strategy

  • When walking outdoors, wear protective clothing and be aware of your surroundings.
  • Walking with a buddy.
  • Bring a fully charged cell phone and let people know where you plan to hike and how long you will be gone.
  • If you see a rattlesnake, stay away.
  • Do not touch or disturb the snake, even if it appears dead.
  • Take care of children and keep dogs and other pets on a leash.
  • Stay on paths, away from undergrowth and tall weeds.
  • Carefully inspect logs or rocks before sitting on them.

For more information about rattlesnake safety, visit the CPCS website.