With summer in full swing we want to spend time outdoors with friends and family. Whether it be a picnic in the town square or a hike through a beautiful national park running into a fire ant nest can be a painful lesson. Let’s talk about what you can do to prevent those stings and what to do if you’ve already been stung.
Fire ants are a small type of ant commonly found in the southern United States. Unlike other ants the fire ant doesn’t bite to cause pain, rather they bite to hold themselves in place so they can deliver a painful sting. This sting releases a toxic venom called solenopsin, which is what causes the burning sensation caused by fire ant bites, and is likely where they got their name from. While painful for everyone, a small percentage of people are actually allergic to this venom. If the stings cause excessive swelling, itching, redness, a difficulty breathing or excessive sweating these are signs of an allergic reaction and you should seek medical attention immediately.
When it comes to fire ant stings the best treatment is definitely prevention. Learn to recognize fire ant nests and keep a keen eye open for them. They appear as a naked mound of loose dirt, and often near moist areas such as river banks and lake or pond shores. If you do find you have stepped in a fire ant nest leave the area immediately. Also, wearing protective clothing like long socks and boots while hiking can help prevent stings.
But what if you’ve already been stung? Firstly make sure that you remove any fire ants on you. Because they bite into your skin to hold on while stinging it can be difficult to remove them. Even if you do not have an allergic reaction to the stings they will still itch and burn. An over the counter antihistamine like Benadryl can help with this itching and burning. Topical anti itch creams such as calamine lotion or hydrocortisone cream can also help to soothe itchy skin. Oral nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs such as aspirin and ibuprofen can also ease the pain from stings.
It’s common for fire ant bites to develop blisters and you should never pop a blister. If a blister is accidentally popped you should treat it like any other cut or open wound. Keep it clean by washing it with antibacterial soap and cool water and dress the wound to help prevent infection.