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What To Do When Ants Bite

fire ants

Experiencing your first fire ant bite is practically a rite of passage in the American south. And when we say "experiencing," what we really mean is "suffering through" your first fire ant bite. It's an experience people won't soon forget! Fire ant bites are painful, itchy, and just plain awful! But, unfortunately, most people will manage to get stung at least once in their life.

Although most Americans commonly refer to fire ant attacks as "bites," the truth of the matter is that fire ants technically "sting." Similar to bees and wasps, fire ants sting their victim and inject their venom to stun their prey. Through this method, they can work together as a group to overtake animals much larger than themselves. 

Whether you call it a "sting" or a "bite," if you've been attacked by a fire ant, then you've come to the right place. We've compiled a list of all the information you'll want to know if you come face-to-face with a fire ant.


Concerning Fire Ants

There are actually several species of fire ants that are either native or invasive to North America. However, the most problematic stinging ant in the southern U.S. by far is the invasive Solenopsis invicta or “red imported fire ant."

They've invaded more than a dozen southern states since they were unintentionally introduced to the United States from South America in the 1930s, and their populations are still spreading. These imported fire ants are typically ⅛ to ¼ inch long and are a reddish-brown color.

Spotting and avoiding ant habitats

The best defense against ant stings is to avoid ant mounds. The red imported fire ant builds their mounds in soil. Unfortunately, these ant mounds can be found just about anywhere, including lawns, gardens, fields, and playgrounds.

Red imported fire ant mounds are usually no bigger than 18 inches wide and can sometimes be much smaller and harder to notice. Fire ant mounds begin appearing in higher volume as temperatures get warmer, so keep an eye out for mounds when spring and summer arrive.

When a fire ant mound is disturbed, the fire ants will all quickly emerge and begin aggressively attacking simultaneously. Fire ants are a hazard to everyone. Adults, children, pets, and livestock – no one is safe from fire ant stings. Fire ants don't discriminate once their home has been disturbed.

The best way to keep your property safe is to have your lawn professionally treated to prevent a fire ant invasion.

Although there are "Do It Yourself" methods for fire ant prevention and removal, we strongly recommend working with a local professional lawn care service.

Already got fire ants in your yard? Here's a guide on how to get rid of fire ants or read about some helpful tips on controlling fire ants in your yard in Texas

Symptoms of a fire ant sting

First, a fire ant attack results in an immediate burning pain in the area of the sting. This intense pain can last a few seconds or minutes, depending on the individual. The pain will then give way to a burning, itchy skin irritation that can be mild to severe depending on a person's biology and how many times they were stung.

A red bump will form on the skin initially, and after some time, a small puss-filled blister will appear. These white pustules left from a fire ant sting are distinctive from most other stings because they resemble a pimple. Typically, the stung area can remain irritated and itchy for a few hours to a few days.

Unlike bees and wasps, fire ants will continue to sting again and again until they are removed. Fire ants also attack in groups. For both of these reasons, it is common to have more than one sting after encountering a fire ant. Having a couple concurrent stings is unlucky - but normal.

Fire ants are sensitive to movement and will repeatedly sting if the object (or person) they're on begins moving. So although you definitely want to get any fire ants off of your body immediately, that jerking movement may also trigger the ants to sting more. It is still vital that you get the fire ants off!

Whether or not you are hypersensitive to ant stings, the more stings you have - the more severe your reaction will be to their venom. So if you have any symptoms of a serious allergic reaction – seek help immediately.

Allergic reactions

Fire ant stings create minor skin irritations for most people, but for some people, these stings can cause severe allergic reactions. People who are extra sensitive to the venom from fire ant stings may experience excessive swelling, swelling in other areas, or very intense pain and itching. These symptoms can become dangerous if not treated but are rarely life-threatening.

Doctors will often recommend that people who are sensitive to fire ant stings take an over the counter antihistamine after being stung. However, you should always discuss these symptoms with your doctor, as well as any allergies to medications.

It is extremely rare for fire ant stings to be lethal. Young children, elderly people, and people who have compromised immune systems are more likely to experience severe allergic reactions to a fire ant sting. Also, if a person is stung excessively, there is a higher chance of a severe allergic reaction, such as anaphylaxis.

 Although very uncommon, some people are extremely hypersensitive to fire ant venom. People with these severe allergies must always carry an EpiPen with them as they can display signs of anaphylactic shock just minutes after a sting.

Get emergency medical assistance if any of these symptoms are present following an ant sting:

  • Difficulty breathing
  • Swollen tongue or throat
  • Dizziness
  • Loss of consciousness

Home treatments for fire ant stings

If you have been stung by a fire ant start here:

  • Clean the sting with mild soap and water.

  • Don't scratch!! If you scratch or pop the pustule, the itchy sting will remain longer, and you will be more vulnerable to infection. If you accidentally scratch and open the sting, apply antibiotic ointment to the area to help avoid infection.

  • Raise the stung area to reduce swelling.

  • Try icing the affected area or using a cold, wet compress. Always use ice responsibly: never put ice directly on the skin and only use ice for short periods (20 minutes on, 20 minutes off).

  • Keep the sting clean.

Although there is no tried and true cure for ant stings, there are several home remedies you can try to ease some of the discomfort:

  • Use a hydrocortisone cream to relieve itching.

  • Take an over the counter antihistamine to mitigate allergic reactions. Always talk with your doctor about your symptoms.

  • Use essential oils. Essential oils are a great natural treatment option for skin ailments. For fire ant stings, try applying diluted lavender oil or diluted tea tree oil to the sting. The oils should ease the itching and swelling and promote faster healing.

  • Take an oatmeal bath. Put 1-2 cups of oatmeal into lukewarm water as the tub fills. Stay in the bath 15-20 minutes to relieve itchiness. If you’d rather not bathe in the oatmeal and your sting is in an area that you can soak, add 1 cup of oatmeal to a bowl or small tub of lukewarm water and soak your sting.

  • After the first 24 hours, you can try using a warm, wet compress to reduce itching.

  • Apply apple cider vinegar to the fire ant sting to reduce swelling and discomfort.

It is important to note that every single person is different and will have different reactions to treatments.

Always use common sense while using home remedies. Something that may work for you may not necessarily work for someone else. Use your best judgment and listen to your body!

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