Bites from Fire Ants: What You Should Do
When the weather is warmer and the days are longer, we can’t resist spending more time outdoors, whether it’s gardening, walking, playing or just sitting and relaxing. But guess who else loves the warmer weather? Fire ants. And bites and stings from fire ants are a definite buzz kill.
Because fire ants originally came from South America, they prefer the warmer temperature of the southern United States. Springtime is when you start seeing these insects building their mounds.
Here’s a fun fact: Fire ants both bite and sting, although when you’re attacked by fire ants, most of the pain comes from venom contained in the sting. Another fact about fire ants: They’re fast. If you disturb their mound, they can start swarming you and stinging within 10 to 20 seconds. Often you don’t realize you’re being attacked until it’s too late and your foot or hand is covered with ants, injecting you with venom.
Fire ant colonies can contain up to 200,000 ants, including worker ants and a queen, who lays from 1,500 to 1,600 eggs a day. The worker ants build underground tunnels as far away as 25 feet from the ant mound.
What injuries do fire ants cause?
If you’ve ever been attacked by fire ants, it was probably a memorable occasion. Their stings often leave behind itchy, painful blisters that appear within about 20 minutes of the attack. These blisters are allergic reactions. If you are stung by many fire ants, or if you are severely allergic to their venom, the attack can lead to serious medical consequences.
You might be tempted to pop the blisters – don’t. That can lead to infections. Instead, try:
- Cold compresses
- Hydrocortisone cream
- Oral antihistamines
- Triple antibiotic ointment to blisters that have been popped from scratching (and try not to scratch)
- Oatmeal baths
Pain and itching from the venom can last for hours and even days. If the pain and itching haven’t gotten better after a few days, or if there is swelling or spreading redness on the skin, you may need to see your healthcare provider. Depending on the severity, your doctor may recommend hydrocortisone injections or prescription hydrocortisone creams. Infected stings may require antibiotics.
While most fire ant stings heal on their own, if you are severely allergic to fire ants, even one sting can cause anaphylaxis, a condition that can lead to unconsciousness or even death without treatment. This is not common, but if someone experiences these symptoms, immediate emergency medical attention is required:
- Trouble with breathing
- Swelling of the tongue or throat
- Loss of consciousness
If you’ve had a severe allergic reaction to fire ants in the past, your doctor may recommend you carry with you an EpiPen, a life-saving device that you can use to inject a medicine called epinephrine.
How can you prevent fire ants?
While you can apply a variety of treatments to your lawn, be aware that unless all your neighbors are also treating their lawns, it may be difficult to completely eradicate fire ants from your surroundings.
Fire ant treatments are available at lawn care stores in a variety of forms, including baits, granules and liquids. Care should be taken when using these insecticides around pets and children.
Children are especially at risk to fire ant bites. Make sure they know what a fire ant mound looks like so that they can identify them and stay away from them. Before letting them play outside, inspect the area carefully for fire ant mounds.
The LSU AgCenter offers several helpful publications on dealing with fire ants, including this free online publication.
Learn more about Urgent Care at Ochsner.