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Fire ants can turn a blissful afternoon outside into an itchy, burning torrent of misery. A fire ant attack usually causes immediate, intense pain. The pain quickly gives way to itchiness and skin irritation that lasts for several hours to several days.
While it may seem like fire ants bite when they attack, the correct term to use is ‘sting’. That is why we use the word sting instead of bite in this article.
For most people, fire ant stings are nothing more than an inconvenience. However, some stings can cause intense pain and itching.
Stings can be life-threatening for people who are allergic to the venom of fire ants. A single sting can cause symptoms of anaphylaxis within minutes.
Read on to learn more about fire ants, what to watch out for, and when to get medical treatment.
The term fire ant refers to several species of stinging ants. Two imported species causing problems in the United States are:
A native of South America, Solenopsis invicta has colonized at least 13 states in the US. These are mainly located in the southeast. Less than an inch long and red to brown in color, the species is commonly known as the red imported fire ant.
Red fire ants build mounds about 18 inches wide. These mounds are often found in grass or lawns, garden beds, driveways and other areas with easy access to food. They eat animals and a wide variety of fruits and vegetables.
These ants use their venom to stun their prey, allowing large groups of fire ants to quickly overcome much larger animals, such as box turtles.
Also a native of South America, Solenopsis Richteri is commonly known as the black imported fire ant. Black fire ants are found only in a few Gulf Coast and Southeast states, including Texas, Mississippi, and Alabama.
Black fire ants also build mounds. Theirs are usually much larger than red fire ant mounds, which are often several meters high. These ants are almost identical in size and shape to their red cousins, but are black or dark brown instead of reddish brown.
Both species defend their mounds aggressively, stabbing invaders in large groups. Stings are common in gardeners, playing children, and pets. Ants usually continue to attack until their victims leave the mound. Most people get stabbed in the legs and feet after stepping on a hill.
Unlike many other types of stinging and biting insects, ants can sting multiple times. A single worker ant will sting multiple times while trying to defend its mound.
In most people, stings cause minor skin irritation.
A fire ant sting often begins with an intense pinching or burning pain immediately after the sting. This pain is short-lived and lasts from seconds to several minutes.
Next comes itching or a burning sensation that can be mild or intense. The itching usually gets stronger over the next few days. Most stings heal on their own without treatment.
Fire ant stings produce a mark that distinguishes them from other insect stings. The wounds are pus-filled blisters that are round and may resemble pimples.
Because fire ants attack their victims in groups, the stings often come in clusters. Blisters appear quickly, usually within 20 minutes of a fire ant attack.
Allergic reactions to fire ant stings
The blisters that form after fire ant stings are allergic reactions, but some people develop more serious reactions. The areas immediately around the sting may swell, burn, or itch.
Anaphylaxis is less common but can be life-threatening. People with severe allergies to fire ant venom usually develop symptoms within minutes of being stung.
The following symptoms need urgent medical attention:
If left untreated, these allergic reactions can send the body into shock.
Most people do not need medical treatment for fire ant stings. If breathing is regular and the victim of the sting is not known to have a severe allergy to ants, the following home remedies may be effective:
- apply cold compresses to reduce swelling – 20 minutes on, 20 minutes off
- using a hydrocortisone cream on the skin to relieve itching
- taking an antihistamine to treat mild localized allergic reactions and itching
- applying a triple antibiotic ointment to the sting to help prevent infection from stings opened by scratching
- taking an oatmeal bath to reduce itching
It is important to resist the urge to scratch the stings. Scratching can open the blisters and cause an infection.
Many of these treatments can be purchased over the counter or online, including: hydrocortisone cream, antihistamine, and triple antibiotic ointment.
Difficulty breathing, changes in consciousness, and severe swelling within an hour of the sting require emergency medical attention. Emergency treatment with epinephrine can reverse the reaction.
After an anaphylactic reaction to fire ants, some doctors recommend wearing an EpiPen. A person can use these home devices to inject epinephrine immediately after a sting. They can be life-saving in the event of a subsequent allergic reaction or when a reaction occurs in an area where medical help is not nearby.
If the symptoms of a fire ant sting do not go away after a few days, medical treatment may be necessary. This is also the case if there is swelling, severe pain or spreading redness on the skin. Depending on the symptoms, a doctor may recommend hydrocortisone cream or hydrocortisone injections. Infected stings may require antibiotics.
The following steps can help prevent fire ant stings and reduce their severity:
- immediately move out of an area if stung by a fire ant or if fire ants are found on the body
- wearing protective clothing, such as thick socks and boots, while working outdoors
- avoiding work in or around fire ant mounds
- use of repellents designed to deter fire ants (a range of products are available for this) Buy online)
People should not step on fire ant mounds, even when wearing protective clothing. Disturbing hills in this way can provoke an attack.
It is also important to check for fire ants indoors. Fire ants sometimes go indoors to escape extreme weather conditions. If fire ants are indoors, homeowners should consider seeking help from a pest control company.
Fire ants, children and pets
Children and pets are more at risk for fire ant stings because they are unaware of the dangers of fire ant mounds. Pets can also bring fire ants in on their fur after a fire ant attack, putting owners at risk of attack.
Parents and caregivers should talk to children about the dangers of fire ants and show them what fire ant mounds look like. They must teach children to wipe off fire ants as soon as they find them crawling on their skin.
Removing visible fire ant mounds and sealing areas where fire ants live can help protect pets. If fire ants attack a pet, it should be removed from the ants as soon as possible.
Ants must be removed by hand. Spraying the ants with water allows them to cling to their jaws. This can be frightening for a pet experiencing a seizure.
The term “fire ants” refers to several species of stinging ants. Red fire ants and black fire ants can be found in some parts of the US
The sting of fire ants can cause intense pain and itching. Some people may be allergic to ant venom and may need emergency treatment, as a single sting can cause symptoms of anaphylaxis in just minutes.
People should avoid fire ant mounds, even when wearing protective gear. If there are fire ants in a person’s home, they should seek help from a pest control company to remove them.