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