I've written extensively about pet care and pet health both on the web and in print. I have 6 dogs, 16 cats, and a small flock of birds.
Fire Ant Bite Treatments and Home Remedies
Did you get stung or bitten by fire ants? These bites are itchy and painful due to the fact that they're a bite and a sting in one. The ant removes a chunk of skin with his mandibles and then stings with a venom.
Fire ants are found throughout the southern United States and South America. In fact, they're a non-native species to the U.S. It's believed that they were brought to the United States aboard cargo ships traveling from South America to Mobile, Alabama, in the 1930s.
There are more than 220 species of fire ants. They're also called tropical fire ants, red ants, and ginger ants. In the U.S., they're often referred to as Red Imported Fire Ants or "RIFA."
This article will explore home remedies for fire ant bites, treatments to prevent infection, and how to treat the itching that occurs. We'll also discuss fire ant pustules, and we'll explore signs of an allergic reaction to these types of bites and stings, along with tips to avoid getting stung.
Supplies for Fire Ant Bite Treatment
You'll need the following items to treat these types of bites and stings.
- After-Bite Remedy: Ammonia, an After-Bite Stick, or an ice pack (to reduce the itching and burning).
- Soap and Disinfectant: Antibacterial soap and hydrogen peroxide or Betadine (to clean the ant bites.)
- Benadryl:Benadryl or another antihistamine medication (to control the itching in the long term.)
- Ointments or Creams: Hydrocortisone cream or spray (to control itching) and antibiotic ointment or Neosporin (to prevent infection.)
- Bandage or Band-Aid:Band-Aids (for just a few bites), or rolled gauze/other large bandages (to cover large areas.)
How to Treat Fire Ant Bite Itching
In the moments after you suffer from fire ant bites, you'll experience an acute burning and itching sensation. The discomfort can be quite intense, but fortunately, it's actually really simple to treat the symptoms.
But before you attempt to treat fire ant bites, you'll need to remove the ants from your skin! It's best to brush them off using swift, short strokes. Never, ever try to rinse off the ants with water! This triggers the ants' natural instinct to hold on for dear life, so to speak, and they achieve that with their mandibles! Stated simply, if you try to wash off the ants, they'll bite down in an attempt to avoid getting rinsed away, so you'll get more bites than you would otherwise. So always brush them off; never try to wash them off!
Ammonia as a Sting Treatment
Ammonia is perhaps the best home remedy for ant bites. The ammonia neutralizes the venom, thereby serving as an effective bite treatment.
Apply ammonia to the fire ant bites as soon as possible. Pour it over a large area or dampen a paper towel or cotton ball and apply it to the bite. The ammonia will eliminate the fire ant bite itch and sting within moments.
Another Home Remedy for Bite Itching
Don't have ammonia on hand? Try an ice pack or another cold compress. The ice pack will greatly reduce the itching and burning sensation.
You may also consider buying an anti-itch insect bite stick or spray. They're frequently sold under names like "After-Bite."
Medications and Treatments for the Itch
After you administer first aid with ammonia for a cold pack, you'll need to take medication to treat the fire ant bite, as the venom can cause swelling and prolonged itching.
Try the following treatments for the itching and swelling:
- Take doses of an antihistamine like Benadryl for 24 hours following the bite(s);
- Apply an antihistamine cream or ointment, like Hydrocortisone; and
- Apply cold compresses to reduce swelling.
These measures will treat the itchiness associated with the insect bites, but you'll also need to take measures to prevent infection. Read on for all the details!
Fire Ant Bite Pustules and Preventing Infection
Fire ant bites are prone to infection. Once you've administered first aid by eliminating the severe itching and burning with ammonia, an ice pack, or a bug bite medication, you must clean the bite(s). Wash with an antibacterial soap for a total of two minutes.
Clean the bites with hydrogen peroxide or Betadine. Then, apply a layer of hydrocortisone or another anti-itch cream, followed by a layer of antibiotic ointment. Cover with a bandage. After approximately 12 to 24 hours, a pustule will form at the site of the sting.
Should You Pop Ant Bites?
Many find it tempting to pop fire ant bite pustules, but this must be avoided. If you squeeze the pustule, it will push the infection deeper into the skin.
The pustule will break open and drain after a day or two. Healing will take about a week. Fire ant bites scar on many skin types, leaving a dark mark where the sting was located. These tend to fade and disappear over the course of a few months.
Popping Fire Ant Bite Pustules
It's very tempting to squeeze the pustules formed at the site of red ant bites. They look like whiteheads (pimples).
If you squeeze an ant bite pustule, you'll push the infection deeper into the skin. This increases the chances that you'll need oral antibiotics to treat the infection.
If You Absolutely Must Pop Them...
...Use the following method. But only if you can't resist the urge to pop the pustules. For fast healing, please, leave them alone!
- Apply a warm, wet compress for 20 minutes. Wrap a damp washcloth around a microwavable heat pack or soak the region in really warm water.
- Disinfect a needle by soaking it in rubbing alcohol, hydrogen peroxide, or Betadine for two minutes.
- Wash your hands and the fire ant bite with anti-bacterial soap. Wash for two full minutes!
- Disinfect the bite and surrounding area by swabbing it with rubbing alcohol, hydrogen peroxide, or Betadine.
- Lance the ant bite pustule with the disinfected needle.
- Allow the pustule to drain. Do not squeeze it!
- Wash and disinfect the fire ant bite. Wash it for an additional two minutes using anti-bacterial soap. Follow up by swabbing the site of the ant bite with rubbing alcohol, hydrogen peroxide, or Betadine. Allow it to air dry.
- Apply hydrocortisone cream and antibiotic ointment. Apply a coat of hydrocortisone cream to control the itching and follow by a dab of antibiotic ointment or Neosporin to prevent infection.
- Apply a bandage or band-aid. This will keep the antibiotic ointment on the ant bite.
Symptoms and Signs of an Allergic Reaction
Some people are allergic to fire ant bites and stings. If you suffer from any of the following symptoms, seek immediate medical attention. These symptoms are indicative of anaphylaxis, a severe, life-threatening allergic reaction:
- Difficulty Breathing
- Tongue or Facial Swelling
- Nausea or Vomiting
- Rapid Heart Rate
- Weak or Rapid Pulse
- Sweating and/or a Sudden Warm Feeling
- Seizures or Muscle Tremors
- Fainting or Loss of Consciousness
- Pale Skin
- Drooling or Salivation
- Rapid Swelling at the Bite Site
These are among the symptoms of a fire ant bite allergy. If you have an EpiPen, administer an immediate injection. Otherwise, call 911.
Pets and Fire Ant Allergies
Notably, pets can also suffer from fire ant sting allergies, and like humans, anaphylactic shock can be deadly. Therefore, if you see any of the above symptoms in your dog, cat, or another animal, rush the pet to the emergency veterinary clinic.
If your cat or dog has a known fire ant allergy, ask your veterinarian about an EpiPen prescription. The injection can be administered to counteract the allergic reaction.
Signs of an Infection
Most fire ant bites will heal within approximately one week. But in some cases, an infection can take hold. An established infection will require a trip to the doctor's office for an oral antibiotics prescription.
Infection symptoms include:
- Swelling (beyond approximately 72 hours)
- Discharge and pus
- Foul odor
- Gradual enlargement of the wound or a wound that won't heal
Over time, the fire ant bite site should be improving. If it's starting to look worse with time, that's a sign of an infection. It can be difficult to notice small changes when you see the wound on a daily basis, so try taking photographs (be sure to use the same lighting conditions for each photo!) Upload the photos onto your computer and compare. This makes it easy to determine whether the ant bites are improving or getting worse!
Notably, fire ant bite scabs tend to remain for a long time -- up to two weeks, in my experience. This is normal.
Diabetics and Fire Ant Bites
Diabetics frequently experience problems with wound healing, particularly on the extremities like the legs and feet. Unfortunately, the legs and feet are common locations for red ant bites and stings.
If you are a diabetic with known wound healing problems, consult your physician if you suffer fire ant bites. Due to the propensity for infection and pustules, red ant bites are especially dangerous for diabetics, so your doctor may opt to prescribe oral antibiotics.
Good Luck and Stay Safe
Hopefully, these remedies will help relieve the discomfort of your fire ant bites. Contact your physician if the bites become inflamed, infected, or do not go away within a few days. In some rare cases, bites can cause victims to have systemic or anaphylactic reactions; if this occurs, contact your doctor immediately.
Do you have any crazy fire ant stories, or any additional ways to treat their bites? Let us know in the comments below!
Sources and Further Reading
- ClevelandClinic: Fire Ant Bites
- EncyclopediaBritannica: Fire Ants
- MedicalNewsToday: What are fire ant bites?
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and does not substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, and/or dietary advice from a licensed health professional. Drugs, supplements, and natural remedies may have dangerous side effects. If pregnant or nursing, consult with a qualified provider on an individual basis. Seek immediate help if you are experiencing a medical emergency.
Betty on September 29, 2018:
I stepped into a nest of fire ants and got several on legs before getting into car where I realized what had happened. Seems like I now have fire ants in car and house, with bites. Is this possible. Is blood food, or are bites reaction to danger or intrusion...?
Anita on August 28, 2018:
I used Thyme oil on the bites and the stinging and itching disappeared
Cathy on July 31, 2018:
Three days after the ant encounter and I can barely walk on my foot. Tried your ice idea and that gave me the most relief so far. Thank you.
Frank on May 27, 2018:
The article was extremely helpful, on how to treat fire ant bites.thank you.
Np on April 03, 2018:
Is exercise discouraged? Will it cause further swelling or deeper infection?
zarskyspace on March 16, 2018:
Love the cornmeal idea, will definitely try. Hate putting poison near garden and that is where they get me.
Pebbles78623 on November 26, 2017:
Some good information in this article, but some of it I question. Being from South Texas/Louisiana area I have some knowledge of fire ants First off the 'blisters' that form around a fire ant bite are not infection they are the body's way of protecting itself from the venom of the sting. (Fire ants bite and sting) While popping the blister may open up the sting to the possibility of infection it doesn't 'drive the infection deeper into the skin' because the blister is not a sign of infection. Next, my family and I have encountered fire ants many times. In fact I'm battling them right now in my yard. My son was/is allergic to them. Out of all the visits to the ER or doctor's office over the years I never once had a doctor suggest bandaging the bites/stings, in fact the consensus seemed to be that it's best to leave them uncovered and open to the air, with loose clothes so that they didn't rub against the stings and irritate them. Maybe if they get infected you might cover them but again those 'blisters' are not infection. I've never even had them wipe them down with alcohol, or suggest it as part of care.
Treat them for the stinging if you must, but it actually goes away fairly quickly. If you have ammonia on hand close by then great, but by time you go and fetch everything like ice packs and such the stinging will most likely be over. Treat the itching as needed, but sometimes applying something to the sting actually stimulates the itching sensation so only treat it if it is actively itching. Small red bumps with a 'blister' are normal. If it causes a large red welt say as big round as a nickel or quarter or more then you are probably having an allergic reaction (although a milder one) and should have the doctor check it out. If you begin to have problems breathing, feel like your tongue is swelling, notice swelling in your fingers, toes or around your eyes/face. Or extreme swelling at the sting location, or otherwise feeling bad then see a doctor immediately.
Liza on November 04, 2017:
I got bit by accidently standing on there hill..didnt know anything about them first hand but didn't really take anything for them as I was at a park so didn't go home for a couple of hours after ..then just showered and went to bed..should I be concerned I have the postuels but avoid rubbing or scratching
Evelyn on October 31, 2017:
Was out doing the weeding and in knowingly came upon a colony of fire ants they were all over my legs before I realized it . Start d to panic as this is not my first encounter with these little creatures . Now feeling very tired and a little chilly . Should I be concerned
Sherry Goodwin on September 07, 2017:
Thank you. This was very helpful. My left lower leg was attacked by red fire ants. Fortunately, there were only 3 that formed pustules. And even more fortunate that I'm not allergic to them. The pustules were not improving, but getting bigger. I discovered from this article that it is because I have been poking them in an attempt to dry them up. Thank you. I will avoid popping them now and treat them to prevent further damage.
Mia Carter (author) from SW Florida on January 02, 2014:
@anonymous: Sure! Fire ants can climb, just like other ants. So they could certainly find their way into your 13th floor unit and into your bed!
golfnrn on October 26, 2013:
You can wipe out a colony of the ants by a heavy sprinkling of cornmeal over their mounds....they greedily go after it and will literally implode.....I'm live in Orlando and have them In our yards but I get rid of them with this inexpensive method! Pat Carter
anonymous on July 16, 2013:
20 nasty fire ant bites while gardening on my feet! OUCH
anonymous on March 11, 2013:
Is it possible that fire ants occur on beds and they come on the 13th floor.
nathanpoole on December 05, 2012:
I hate fire ants because they always bite me.
WriterJanis2 on November 16, 2011:
I learned a lot about fire ants in this lens. Never knew about how they communicated. Interesting!
spartakct on November 02, 2011:
nice informative lens!
EpicFarms on September 17, 2011:
Fire ants are horrible! We have them everywhere in our area, and they are VERY difficult to keep under control. We treat the yard and pasture with something called "Extinguish" (safe to use around the horses). The ants are miserable for the animals too; it's a never ending battle. I'm going to try the ammonia next time. Handy lens!
imolaK on September 15, 2011:
Your lens is very helpful and interesting. Blessed.
cdevries on September 10, 2011:
A really useful lens - especially for those of us who live in the south. Thanks1