Fire ants are venomous, aggressive insects that have pinching mandibles with a sharp stinger on the rear of the body which is connected to an internal venom sac. It is important to note that fire ant bites typically occur on the legs or feet after accidentally stepping on a mound. It is vital that you are aware that during the summer, fire ants are capable of injecting a great amount of venom and the stings are large and painful.
Types of reactions after a fire ant bite
This is the usual reaction to fire ant bites and described by an abrupt feeling of burning and then followed by itchiness and an elevated, red welt on the skin that lasts for 4-6 hours. Once the welt subsides, a pustule forms the following day with blistering that resolves over a week. The individual is prone to scratch these lesions since they are very itchy, but it is recommended to refrain from doing so since it increases the risk for infection.
Large localized reaction
A small percentage of individuals who sustained a fire ant bite develop a large local reaction. In such cases, a large-sized welt appears on the skin at the bite site. Over 6-12 hours, swelling occurs with severe itchiness that later becomes painful. In 1-2 days, the swelling becomes substantially large and reaches its maximum size which makes it painful and hot.
Rarely, anaphylaxis can occur after a fire ant bite. This is a severe allergic reaction that usually coincides with a previous bite from a fire ant or wasp. The symptoms of this reaction manifest within 30-40 minutes after the bite and can be life-threatening if not treated properly. The whole body will itch and the individual will develop difficulty breathing.
There are also other toxic reactions that are linked with fire ant bites and it is vital that you are aware of these systemic reactions. These reactions include seizures, serum sickness, nephrotic syndrome, mononeuritis and worsening of any current cardiopulmonary diseases.
What to do
Once you stumbled upon a fire ant, the initial step is to kill it by slapping it off your body and wash the bite site using cold water and soap. When it comes to the itchiness, it can last for hours and it is vital to take an oral antihistamine or apply a topical steroid ointment such as hydrocortisone.
This treatment is effective for a localized reaction and a large local reaction. Take note that the hydrocortisone ointment can be covered with a first aid tape to promote better absorption of the steroid. As for very large localized reactions, they are treated with a prescription steroid ointment or/and an oral corticosteroid such as prednisone.
In case the individual develops anaphylaxis, it requires emergency care and proper evaluation by an allergist. The allergist might recommend desensitizing injections in case the individual has been stung by a fire ant again.