You are outside working in your yard on a hot, sunny summer’s day when suddenly you feel a tiny sting to your ankle followed by another and then another sting. You look down and see that you’ve stepped in a fire ant’s nest. You quickly do your best to swat them away, even going so far as to remove your shoes and socks. But now that you are free from the pesky little attackers, how best should you treat your ant bites? CMC Primary Care is explaining what you need to know about ant bites and providing some recommendations on how to take care of them and when to seek further treatment.
The nitty-gritty about ants
Fire ants, also called “red ants” by some because of their color, are aggressive and venomous insects. These small but mighty vermin are most often found in the southern United States and coastal South Carolina is prime territory for them. Fire ants are most active from spring through fall when ground temperatures are 60 degrees or higher.
Fire ants are usually a dark red color with pincers on their head and a stinger on their rear end. When a fire ant attacks, its stinger releases a chemical called formic acid into the skin that creates a burning sensation. Hence the name fire ant. They typically bite/sting as a reaction to feeling threatened and to protect their dwellings. Disrupt an ant hill and you can anticipate having way more than one bite.
Symptoms of a fire ant bite
A fire ant bite will create a mark that looks similar to a pimple. The skin around the area will usually be quite red and will eventually develop a pus-filled blister. Other symptoms of an ant bite are:
- Mild swelling at the bite site
- Pain or a burning sensation
- Redness and/or swelling
- A small welt on your skin that turns into a blister filled with pus
- Most people do not need medical treatment for fire ant stings, however, some people are allergic to ant venom and can have more severe symptoms, such as:
- Stomach cramps and nausea
- Difficulty breathing
- Increased heart rate
- Swelling of the lips, eyes, or throat
If you or a loved one experiences these symptoms after a fire ant attack, seek immediate medical attention. An epinephrine injection can also be helpful for allergic reactions.
What helps ant bites go away faster?
How long a fire ant sting lasts can depend on the amount of venom the ants release into your skin. It can take anywhere from 7 to 10 days for the blister/sore to go away. If it lingers beyond that, contact your primary care provider.
To treat the affected area, first, wash it with soap and water. Afterward, you can apply a cool compress with ice to help reduce pain and swelling (20 minutes on, 20 minutes off.) Topical treatments that can be used throughout the day to assist with symptoms are hydrocortisone cream, calamine lotion, or a baking soda paste. Taking an oral antihistamine can also help with itching.
Other treatments include taking acetaminophen to alleviate pain and taking an oatmeal bath to help reduce itching.
Should you pop an ant bite?
It can be very tempting to pop the blister created by an ant bite, but don’t pop it! Popping a blister could lead to an infection because it creates an open wound that allows bacteria and germs to enter your body.
It is important to resist the urge to scratch your ant bites for this very reason. Scratching can open the blisters and cause infection. If you leave your ant bites alone, they will usually dry up in about four days. However, if you do accidentally pop the blister, apply an antibiotic ointment up to three times a day for one to two days to help prevent infection.