How to Treat Fire Ant Bites

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6 Home Remedies for Fire Ant Bites

6 Home Remedies for Fire Ant Bites | The Survival Doctor

If you disturb fire ants, they don’t mess around. They attack. Technically they bite and sting. When they bite, they clamp to your skin with their two strong pincers. Because of this it takes a lot of vigorous brushing to get them off. After biting, they sting by swinging their tail to and fro. One biting fire ant can sting you six to eight times.

by James Hubbard, MD, MPH

Having grown up in the South, I’ve been bitten enough times by fire ants to pretty well know what’s going on before I see them. I know when I feel that distinctive sting (it’s like being touched with a hot match head … for a long time), I’m going to find a lot of creepy, crawling dots.

Because fire ants don’t come as singles. They quickly cover a foot, leg, or arm before you know what’s happening. And the little devils don’t leave easily. You have to brush and brush and often take off some apparel to make sure they’re not clinging to that. And I know they’re going to leave a sore, itching spot I’m going to have to deal with for days.

Although potentially killer allergic reactions occur, just as they do in bee and wasp stings, I’ve never seen one. But I have seen people with so many stings they literally get sick, and if it’s an arm or leg, there can be lots of local swelling.

We who’ve been bitten all have our little tricks on how to treat fire ant bites, so let’s dig right in.

How to Treat Fire Ant Bites (and Stings)

Home Remedies

  • How to Treat Fire Ant Bites | The Survival DoctorIce pack (with a cloth between the skin and pack) or a cool, wet cloth—or anything cool. Apply for 10-minute intervals with a break in between.
  • Paste of baking soda and water
  • Vinegar
  • Paste of baking soda and vinegar
  • Meat tenderizer
  • Wet tobacco (hopefully you don’t have any, but if you do, put it to some good use)

Oral Medicines

  • Antihistamine, such as diphenhydramine (Benadryl) or one of the nonsedating ones.

Injections

  • Epinephrine. Fire ants can cause the same type of life-threatening allergic reaction as wasps and bees. (See the next section on anaphylactic shock.) And there’s nothing that works as well for life-threatening reactions as injectable epinephrine. It comes in an easy-to-use, pen-like container with a retractable needle called an EpiPen. You can inject yourself or someone else. There’s also a smaller-dosage container you can get for small kids. Read the instructions beforehand, and use immediately if there’s a severe allergic reaction. Everyone should have one of these at home and one in a backpack or bug-out bag because when you need it, you need it immediately. But you’re going to have to ask your doctor for a prescription.
Anaphylactic Warning Signs
6 Home Remedies for Fire Ant Bites | The Survival Doctor

You’ll find fire ants, of course, in their nests (large mounds of dirt) but also on trees, feeding on dead things, and even on top of water.

They’re the same as in any severe allergic reaction—tightness in the chest, trouble breathing, severe nausea, or a breakout of welts over the body (including areas that have not been stung).

If you have these, call 911 or get to a doctor ASAP. If you can’t, the same suggestions apply as for any anaphylactic reaction. (See my post on bee stings for more details.)

 

Now don’t think these ants are satisfied with what they’ve got. These biting invaders first came to the U.S. in 1939 on a South American ship anchored in Mobile, AL. They quickly spread throughout the Southeast, into the Southwest and California, and along the Atlantic Coast. And now they’re moving northward, wiping out other ant types as they go.

What about you? Have you ever made a fire ant mad? How did the sting feel? What did you do?

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Photos: Fire ants: Flickr/KM&G-Morris. Bites: Flickr/JeffKalikstein. Mound: Flickr/Vicki’s Nature.

  • SDR

    Just wanted to offer a tip for stopping the itch from bug bites or hives. I got this out of a book they used to give out to military families of minor home medical treatment called “Take Care Of Yourself”.

    With older children and adults (NOT on little ones, NOT on the elderly, and NOT on anyone who cannot tell if they are getting burned or who have extremely sensitive skin), put hot water on the bite (for example, a hot washcloth) with as hot of water that the patient can stand. It will burn and itch like CRAZY for about 20 seconds. Keep reapplying until there is no itch (truly, it only takes less than a minute). Apparently, according to the book, this causes the cells to release their histamine at once and it takes a few hours for the cells to build up the histamine again. The book said it provides up to 8 hours of relief, if I remember correctly, but we usually only get about 4-6 hours–but the relief is complete. We found it works much better than topical Benadryl, calamine, cold water, oatmeal, etc.

    I have also used coins that were hot from sitting on the dash in a car on a warm (not hot) day on mosquito bites that were driving me crazy.

    Again, do not scald the skin (the water should not be painful to healthy skin–just really hot), and I cannot convey enough not to use it on little ones, the elderly, or anyone with impaired senses or fragile skin. Don’t do this on the face or other tender skin.

    • http://thesurvivaldoctor.com/ James Hubbard, MD, MPH

      Great tip, SDR. I do have that as way of symptom relief with poison ivy, but I’d glad to know it works on fire ant bites as well.

  • Kate J.

    I got bit by a fire ant a day ago and my toe is swollen to the point that it hurts to walk. Trying the baking soda+vinegar combination. Will that help the swelling or just the itching sensation?

    • http://thesurvivaldoctor.com/ James Hubbard, MD, MPH

      Besides the suggestions in the post? Maybe elevating it to heart level. Have you tried ice packs, beanery, or ibuprofen?

  • nonlineartime

    Hi there! I have mild asthma that is exacerbated mostly by mold and some pollens. This week in central Texas, we had a lot of rain so I had some tightness in my chest from the mold and moisture in the air. This is not unusual when it rains here, and a benadryl on top of the daily allergy meds mostly takes care of it. I was out doing some yard work two days ago and got 4-6 fire ant bites (some of the pustules might be the stings I’ve read can happen when they’re biting you), and my breathing was a bit worse yesterday. I’ve been bitten before, but not more than twice at the same time. It was unclear to me whether the breathing problem could be associated with the ant bites or just the normal tightness from environmental allergens. I generally eat a low inflammation diet which helps keep the itchiness of mosquito and ant bites reasonable. Do you think I should go get tested for an allergy to ant bites? I’ve never been stung by a bee so I don’t know if I’m allergic to them. I had a prick test once, but I don’t recall if they included bees, though they definitely didn’t include ants since I lived in a fire ant free place at the time. If I am allergic to the ants would the reaction have been much more acute?

    • http://thesurvivaldoctor.com/ James Hubbard, MD, MPH

      I think you should get the opinion or your doctor who treats your asthma. Sounds like a possible flare up it from weather. But, again, I’d talk to your doctor since he/she knows your individual situation. Oh, and I do have a post on bee allergies http://www.thesurvivaldoctor.com/2012/05/08/allergic-reaction-to-bee-stings/

      • nonlineartime

        Thanks for the advice! It does seem that the reaction would be much more acute if I were really allergic based on some of these other stories. Thankfully for the asthma problem, Texas is usually very dry so it’s rare I even remember I have it.

  • Rcsully

    Experiencing my first bout with bites on my hands. I have been told to pop the venom blister but have read online not to pop it. Should I pop or should I not pop it? Just for the record man do these bites itch …

    • http://thesurvivaldoctor.com/ James Hubbard, MD, MPH

      I see no reason to pop it, just wash with soap and water. But I don’ see a compelling reason not to. Except any that are not intact increase risk for a bacterial skin infection, so again, keeping the area clean is important.

  • Esther Dillon

    I have numerous fire ant bites on my right foot. I got the bites last Thursday and my foot is still pretty swollen 6 days later and there is a lot more redness. I am concerned about it getting infected because I am diabetic. Should I go to the doctor to have it checked out. I don’t have any more burning or any itching, but just the pustules, redness and swelling. Thanks!

    • http://thesurvivaldoctor.com/ James Hubbard, MD, MPH

      Sounds like you need to go. As you know, diabetics can’t afford to take chances with possible infections.

  • BarryG

    I’m from N. California where we have benign but invasive Argentinean ants. I was on a business trip to Florida and while there I went jogging along the side of the road. A guy alerted me to the fact that I was running on top of fire ant hills. I didn’t get a single bite — lucky, probably because I was moving fast enough but I left some angry hives. I immediately ran to the street and stomped off on the pavement. Lucky.

    • http://thesurvivaldoctor.com/ James Hubbard, MD, MPH

      Very lucky.

  • Jennifer

    Wanted to add that making an oatmeal poultice and applying it to the bite works very well for me. I carried an Epi-pen as a child in case of an anaphylactic reaction, and my brother made two visits to the emergency room because of anaphylactic shock due to fire ant stings. Thankfully I’m not as sensitive as I used to be, and my brother has moved to an area that has not yet been invaded by the little buggers.

    • http://thesurvivaldoctor.com/ James Hubbard, MD, MPH

      Thanks, Jennifer.

  • BJB

    We live in Paraguay where fire ants are basically the “national insect”. It doesn’t help that we mostly wear flip flops or sandals but it’s hard to walk into the yard without ending up with a bite or two and usually a few on your hands or arms if you work in the yard much at all. My question would be regarding “after bite care”. Once the blisters form and invariabley pop due to inadvertent scratching, is it better to just let them “weep” till they scab over again and leave them alone or is it better to dry them up as much as possible? I’m interested to know which way would be best to cut down on healing time.

    • http://thesurvivaldoctor.com/ James Hubbard, MD, MPH

      Good question. I’d be inclined to try to dry them out but, since you get stung so much, you could experiment, try different ways, and see which one works the best. Please let me know what you find out.

      • BJB

        Latest “batch” of bites on hand and forearm I treated with alcohol prep pad to dry them out whenever they got wet/moist. This seemed to help with itching as well as seemed to help them scab over quicker. But this wasn’t a very “scientific” test for sure. Just the fact the alcohol seemed to numb the itching made me think this is the way to go in the future.

        • http://thesurvivaldoctor.com/ James Hubbard, MD, MPH

          Thanks for the update.

  • Nancy

    I was bit 11 days ago but the pustules just formed 4 days ago & I am miserable. I have tried aloe & cortisone cream – nothing helps. I can’t even wear shoes because of the itch. Help?

    • http://thesurvivaldoctor.com/ James Hubbard, MD, MPH

      Nancy, that’s a bit long. I wonder is it infected. If the post suggestions are not help, perhaps you should see a doctor.

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