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Bug Bites & Stings

Hey! A Fire Ant Stung Me!

What’s a Fire Ant?

There are many different types of fire ants, and they are found all throughout the southeastern and southwestern United States. The most common and aggressive kind is the red imported fire ant, which is reddish-brown and measures about 1/8-inch long (about half the size of a pencil eraser).

Red imported fire ants live in colonies that first nest in the ground, and then create a mound of dirt over the nest. These mounds can grow up to 18 inches high and over 2 feet wide!

Red imported fire ants’ nests can be found on lawns, in parks, on playgrounds, in fields, and in pastures. Some red imported fire ants create nests in walls of buildings.

What a Sting Looks and Feels Like

A person who gets stung by a fire ant will feel a sharp pain and burning. A person who steps on a fire ant mound will get a lot of stings at once because the ants have been disturbed where they all live together. Each sting will turn into an itchy white blister over the next day.

What You Should Do

If you ever think that you have been stung by a fire ant, tell an adult immediately. That’s because the venom (poison) in the fire ants’ stings can cause the area of the sting to swell up quite a bit, and a doctor may want to have a look to make sure you are not having an allergic reaction.

The symptoms of an allergic reaction include hives (red patches on the skin that sting and itch), nausea, dizziness, a tight feeling in the throat, or difficulty breathing. If these symptoms occur, the person needs to get medical attention right away.

But more often, you can follow these steps after a fire ant sting:

  • Wash the area with soap and water.
  • Apply some ice to the area.
  • Check with the doctor if you have redness, swelling, or itching.

What a Doctor Will Do

A doctor may suggest giving a medicine called an antihistamine to control swelling and itching. If you are having a more severe allergic reaction to a fire ant sting, he or she may give you a shot that fights the reaction. People who know that they are allergic to fire ant stings also sometimes carry emergency medicine that they can give to themselves to prevent a severe reaction from happening.

How to Avoid Getting Bitten

The best way to avoid getting bitten by fire ants is to keep your shoes on when playing near fire ant mounds. If you come across one, don’t ever poke at it or try to play with it.

Reviewed by: Elana Pearl Ben-Joseph, MD
Date reviewed: April 2013