Fire ant bites happen when a certain type of venomous ant stings. The stings cause a burning sensation, then itchy welts, often in a circular pattern. The welts turn into blisters. Most people can treat fire ant bites at home with antihistamines, over-the-counter steroid creams and cold compresses. But sometimes, the stings can cause systemic or life-threatening reactions.
A fire ant bite occurs when a particular type of aggressive, venomous ant stings your skin.
The bites are painful, itchy and usually on your legs and feet. Rarely, the venom causes a life-threatening reaction.
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A fire ant red-tinged insect. Its size ranges from 1 millimeter (mm) (the tip of a pencil) to 5 mm (the size of a pencil eraser). It has six legs and two pinching mandibles that protrude from its head. It has a pouch of venom and a stinger on its rear end.
Fire ants are common in the United States, especially in the southeast.
Fire ants (Solenopsis invicta and S. richteri) were accidentally imported from South America to Alabama in the 1930s.
The ants live in large numbers in colonies or nests in the ground.
Fire ant bites typically occur when someone accidentally steps on an area of the ground where the insects live. Stings often occur on the exposed skin of your feet, ankles and legs. Fire ants can also attack animals, including pets.
Contact with a fire ant nest will prompt numerous ants to swarm and attack and bite exposed skin.
When a fire ant bites, it attaches its mandibles to your skin. Then, it curves back and sticks its stinger into your skin, injecting venom. It can sting multiple times at once, moving in a circular direction, sometimes, delivering seven or eight stings at a time.
The ants may repeatedly sting you unless you kill them or remove them from your skin.
The symptoms of a fire ant bite happen in stages:
Some people experience a more severe reaction:
You or your healthcare provider can often diagnose fire ant bites based on:
You can treat mild fire ant bites at home with the following steps:
More serious systemic or anaphylactic reactions may require:
If the blisters break and become infected, you may need antibiotics.
Don’t squeeze or pop the blisters. Doing so can lead to infections and scars.
Certain strategies can help you reduce your risk of insect bites, including fire ant stings.
Most reactions to fire ant stings last about a week and don’t require much treatment except as mentioned above. Only about 2% of stings lead to severe reactions.
The blisters can leave scars, especially if you pick or pop them.
If you have a serious reaction to fire ant stings, consider consulting with an allergist after you recover. They may recommend allergy testing or a prescription for an epinephrine injector. This can help you in the event of a future fire ant sting.
Seek immediate medical attention if you develop any signs of a systemic or anaphylactic reaction. Although anaphylaxis is rare, it can become life-threatening quickly, so quick action is key.
If you have any blisters or think a blister may be infected, contact your healthcare provider or a dermatologist.
It’s important to seek medical attention if you develop any of the following symptoms:
A note from Cleveland Clinic
Fire ants are aggressive, venomous insects that sting. They cause painful, intensely itchy welts that turn into blisters. Though rare, fire ant venom can cause a life-threatening reaction. Seek immediate medical attention if you have any systemic symptoms.
Last reviewed by a Cleveland Clinic medical professional on 06/28/2022.
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