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.

  • 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.

  • Pingback: Guess who got into fire ants? -   - City-Data Forum

  • Kathy Smith

    I was bitten multiple times in Florida 2 weeks ago I broke out in blisters. I spoke with a local pharmacist who looked at the bites and identified them as fire ants. He told me to break the blisters and to insert the polysporin into them which I did. they cleared up after a week or so because some of the bites kept blistering again and I continued the process until they were gone. I felt like I was getting a sore throat and my husband looked and it appeared that my taste buds on the back of my tongue were swollen. We on vacation and over the course of the next few weeks I started to feel nauseated and food didn’t nor has it yet to taste right. I am going to see my doctor soon it is the weekend and hope he can see me soon. does anyone know if these symptoms are related to the bites after this long?

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

      Kathy, those symptoms are not typical of fire ant bites from 2 weeks ago. However, you should see a doctor to find out the cause.

  • just bit 2 hours ago

    Thanks for the tea tree oil tip – it gives amazing relief indeed. Took a Benadryl too, and will take another before bed. Fire ants are FAST – they were all over me before I knew it! Felt them before I saw them, nasty little things. I have severe allergies but looks like I have dodged a bullet on this one.

  • Jojo

    Just experiencing our first fire ant bite! My dear son (18 months old) seems to have gotten ahold of 1 and gotten bitten on his pinkie finger 5 times. Now swollen to twice it’s size and he can’t move it. Trying some of your suggestions though and it seems to at least be making him a bit more comfortable!

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

      Jojo, thanks. I feel sorry for the little guy.

  • Suresh

    I was bitten by fire ants a few weeks ago. Having recently moved to Texas I was not aware of them. I washed my feet and came inside. A few minutes later I found myself in the floor having burnt my wrist by having touched a boiling pan of water. Later I developed severe itching and called my daughter who is an allergist. I took Benadryl, Zyrtec and Prednisone. Later I was tested and found to allergic to fire ants. I was instructed in the use of EpiPen and given medications. A couple of days ago was accidentally bitten again and felt my heart racing and a sinking feeling even though I took the oral medications. I then used the EpiPen with a dramatic effect and felt much better. I have been scheduled for allergy injections.

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

      Suresh, thanks for sharing.

  • kimmimom

    My daughter was bit 10 days ago. she ended up on steroids for 3 days due to her whole foot swelling. she is now developing more blisters, about 6 more. the major blister looks disgusting. should she go back to the dr? would love to send a pic.

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

      Yes, she should go back and be rechecked.

      • kimmimom

        Any way to text or email a pic? I called Friday and they said if it didn’t look infected, they weren’t worried about new blisters.

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

          Sorry, it wouldn’t help. I can’t diagnose or treat without an actual exam.

          • kimmimom

            My cousin said it is uncerated and needs strong antibiotics. Another friend who is a dr said it isn’t infected and looks okay. We have an appt at 3 today so we will see which one this dr agrees with. What I don’t understand is why she has no blisters appearing 9+ days after the bites.

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

            I just got in. How did the doctor’s visit go?

          • kimmimom

            They said it didn’t look infected, probably delayed reaction to bites (new blisters). So we are 11 days out and her feet have blisters that are getting bigger. The big first blister did start looking better overnight though. Thanks for asking.

  • Jo

    I’m in south Mississippi where fire ants are numerous. In answer to some of the questions of scarring, there will be a red spot that may stay with you several months, maybe 6-8 months, but they go away. We have discovered lavender essential oil that helps with bug bites, among other things. I’ve never used baking soda for fire ants, but if it works, then toothpaste may as well. I use those two for wasp, etc. stings.
    Also, ants are repelled by cinnamon powder. You can sprinkle it along the doors and windows or wherever they come in. If I found them in my house, I would sprinkle along the baseboards as well!!

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

      Thanks, Jo.