Everything You Need to Know About Ant Bites (and How to Avoid Them)
Fire Ant Bites (or Stings) Make Your Skin Feel Like It’s Burning
Merchant says fire ants are well named because their sting causes a hot, fiery sensation on the skin.
How You Know It's a Fire Ant Bite or Sting
“It starts out as a small, red spot, and, after a day or two, a white pustule forms that’s itchy and a little bit painful,” Merchant says.
It’s possible to experience just a single sting from a lone fire ant. “You may be outside working in a garden or something and get just one on your arm or leg, but commonly people make the mistake of stopping and standing on a mound without realizing it, so they end up covered and they get hundreds of stings.”
A fire ant’s stinger is not barbed, so it can sting a person multiple times. “You may see a row of red marks, and that’s where one ant has grabbed on and stabbed its stinger down in a semicircle,” he says.
Of course, if you’ve picked up multiple fire ants, you’ll know what’s stinging you because you’ll see and feel them on your skin. But if you’re stung just once and don’t see the fire ant, you’ll know it by the fiery sensation and the white pus-filled blisterthat forms a day or two later.
What to Do About Them and When to Seek Medical Attention
Merchant says that, in most cases, fire ant stings don’t require any medical treatment. They’ll itch for a few days, but they’ll go away within a week to 10 days. “But some people — about one in 100 — will have a more serious reaction,” he says. (And in rare cases it can be lethal if the allergic reaction is not treated immediately.) (3)
Head to the ER if you notice any of the follow symptoms, which indicate an allergic response or other complications:
- Difficulty breathing
- A rapid heart rate
- A swollen throat, arms, or legs
- Dizziness or a sharp drop in blood pressure (4,5)
Otherwise, wash the stings with soap and water and apply ice to keep the swelling down. You can use OTC pain or anti-itch creams as needed (6), but don’t apply rubbing alcohol — which can make the sting more painful.
If you notice the sting continuing to swell or grow larger a day or two after you’re stung, that may be a sign of a secondary infection. Fever, muscle aches, or flu-like symptoms can also be cause for concern, and you should call your doctor.
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