Everything You Need to Know About Treating Fire Ant Bites
There’s nothing like stepping in a fire ant mound to ruin a perfectly good summer day outdoors. Measuring only about a quarter inch, these reddish-brown or black critters may not look like much of a threat on their own, but the strength of the fire ant lies in its numbers. Acting together as one, a single colony of hundreds of thousands of fire ants will defend their territory aggressively, each stinging multiple times before leaving you with an itching, burning reminder not to make the same mistake again.
On the positive side, it’s possible that fire ant venom may prove helpful as a skin treatment for psoriasis someday—but that’s not much comfort when you’re dealing with the fallout of a fire ant attack and wondering exactly how long fire ant bites last.
Where Can Fire Ants Be Found?
Though not native to Texas, fire ants have made themselves at home in the Lone Star State since the 1950s. Odds are good that you or a family member will at some point or another stumble into an introduction by stepping on their homes. It’s not your fault: fire ant mounds unhelpfully blend right into the lawns, pastures, and other grassy areas where they like to settle down.
Step on that 6-inch pile of dirt they call a home, though, and you’re in for the wrath of tens of thousands of fire ants that swarm, bite to anchor themselves on your skin, and sting repeatedly with a venom called solenopsin. Their venom then causes symptoms that range from itching to anaphylaxis in rare cases.
What a Fire Ant Bite Looks and Feels Like
Most of the time, you will know the moment you have been stung by a fire ant. Fire ant stings form red bumps on the skin with a blister on top. As the name implies, fire ant bites feel kind of like fire, causing immediate pain and burning sensations, and may cause swelling and redness at the sting site.
The good news: pain from fire ant bites subsides relatively quickly. The bad news: after the pain comes the itching, and the itching will last longer than the pain, potentially for weeks. And, as if designed specifically to torture the person who dared disturb the fire ant colony and in so doing provoke the ant colony’s wrath, you can’t scratch that itch without risking infection.
Some people have more serious allergic reactions to fire ant stings that require immediate medical attention, but these are uncommon.
How Long Do Fire Ant Bite Symptoms Last?
Reactions to fire ant stings vary from person to person. For some, the itching may be the worst side effect. Others experience swelling around the site of the fire ant bites. Most of the time reactions to fire ant bites will resolve on their own, but some people experience severe allergic reactions that do require immediate medical assistance.
Normal Fire Ant Bite Symptoms:
- Pain and burning at the sting site can last between 10 minutes to an hour
- Itching can last for weeks after the fire ant sting
- Hives or bumps develop within 30 minutes of the sting, forming a red spot with a white blister at the center.
- Extremely itchy pustules (pimples full of yellow fluid) develop at the sting site within 24 hours of the fire ant sting, and usually resolve within a week.
- Normal redness and swelling may occur as a reaction to the venom in the 24 hours following the fire ant sting, and is not harmful. If severe swelling develops, you may need to consult your doctor to treat the swelling with steroids.
A Fire Ant Bite Allergic Reaction Requires Immediate Medical Assistance
Although for most people ant bite sting symptoms resolve on their own with no need for medical attention, some people experience severe allergic reactions to fire ant bites that can be life threatening. Fire ant bites are dangerous when they provoke anaphylaxis.
Anaphylactic reactions to fire ant bites generally begin within two hours of being stung, usually with hives. Seek medical attention immediately if you get bitten and already have a history of severe allergic reaction to fire ant bites. If you experience an anaphylactic reaction to fire ant bites and have an epinephrine pen available, use it and seek out medical attention.
Call 911 immediately if you experience any of the following indications of severe allergic reaction to fire ant bites:
- Difficulty breathing
- Difficulty swallowing
- Swelling in your tongue or throat
- Stomach cramps, nausea, or dizziness
- Drooling or dizziness
- Slurred speech, confused affect, or fainting
Fire Ant Bite Treatment
For most people, fire ant bites can be treated at home with first aid. First, wash your skin carefully with soap and water. If your reaction to the fire ant bites is mild, you can cover the affected area with a bandage and apply a cold compress to alleviate the pain.
What Helps Fire Ant Bites Stop Itching?
The itching from a fire ant bite can be intense, and unfortunately there is no magic remedy to make a fire ant bite stop itching completely. In these moments you should summon all of your willpower to go against your natural instincts to scratch it, since scratching itchy fire ant bites can cause the area to become infected. Instead, you can take antihistamines like Benadryl or apply hydrocortisone cream to help relieve the itching. If your itching is severe, you can contact your doctor for prescription strength antihistamines.
What Helps Relieve Swelling From Fire Ant Bites?
Normal swelling from a fire ant bite doesn’t interfere with your ability to function and use the limbs that were attacked by the fire ant colony. To relieve swelling, wrap ice in a towel and apply to the site of the fire ant sting for 15 minutes, take a break for 15 minutes, and then re-apply. You can also help reduce swelling by elevating the parts of your body that were bitten.
If swelling from your fire ant bite is severe or interferes with your use of a limb, your doctor may be able to prescribe steroids to reduce the swelling.
Fire Ant Control: Preventing Fire Ant Bites
It’s not really possible to prevent being bitten by fire ants entirely beyond being careful to not step on any fire ant mounds. If you do, they will swarm, and insect repellent won’t stop them.
Still, there are several safety measures you can take to protect yourself:
- Avoid fire ant mounds and other common locations where fire ant colonies thrive. In addition to grassy fields, fire ants like to establish their colonies in moist areas like rotten logs, under sidewalks, and also in walls.
- Call a pest control expert if you find fire ant colonies in or near your home. Fire ants can carry disease on top of stinging when angry.
- Wear shoes and socks when out in grassy areas, and wear gloves when gardening
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