Red ants, also called fire ants, aggressively attack their victims when disturbed or threatened. The venomous stings from these ants can cause both minor and major allergic reactions in victims. It is important to understand the symptoms of allergic reactions to red ant bites so emergency medical attention can be sought if necessary.
Fire ants got their name from the painful, burning stings they deliver to their victims. To sting, an ant will first attach itself to the victim’s skin using its mandibles. Mandibles are the appendages close to the ant’s mouth; they are used to grab, crush or defend. Once attached to the skin, the ant proceeds to sting the victim, injecting its venom. A single ant may sting up to seven or eight times, which will intensify the pain, especially if the victim is attacked by a swarm. Expect the pain to last for one to several hours.
Within a day, a hive and blister will form at each place where the victim has been stung. It is also likely that the surrounding skin may be red, swell and itch, which can last a few days. A red halo may form around each ant bite. Expect the blisters to last for one to two weeks. If a blister breaks, a scab will form and then fall off after the skin has healed. Resist the urge to scratch the sting sites; if a blister breaks, it could possibly become infected.
Less than one percent of victims may experience a more serious reaction than described previously. Although the reaction can occur when the victim is first stung, it is possible that the first sting will only sensitize the victim to an allergic reaction. Then, the victim will experience the allergic reaction when stung again at a later date. Because the venom includes protein, those with a protein sensitivity will experience more serious symptoms, including anaphylactic shock. Victims may notice flushed skin and possible swelling of the eyes, throat, lips or tongue. In addition, the victim could experience chest pain, slurred speech, hives all over the body, dizziness, nausea, sweating and difficulty breathing. A major allergic reaction and associated symptoms will occur instantly after the sting or within one hour. Anyone experiencing such symptoms should seek medical attention immediately. Anaphylactic shock can lead to coma or death.
The first thing to do when a red ant bites is to remove it from the skin. It must be removed with a hand or cloth; jumping, stomping, or immersing it in water will not detach it. Then, wash the skin with soap and water to remove any traces of the venom on the skin. Disinfect the skin with rubbing alcohol. To reduce the amount of swelling and irritation, apply ice to the sting sites for about 20 minutes. Once a blister forms, Benadryl can be used to relieve the itching. If the victim is experiencing a major allergic reaction, call 911.
Red ants like to build their mounds in open areas such as parks, fields and playgrounds. To avoid stepping on a mound, be conscious of where you are walking. Always wear socks and shoes in any area where red ant mounds may be present. When gardening, it is a good idea to wear gloves to protect the skin. Do not purposely agitate red ants or they may become aggressive and attack. Pay close attention to children and infants who may unknowingly disturb a colony.