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Fire Ant Stings

If you disturb a nest of fire ants you’re likely to get stung many times. That’s because each ant can sting multiple times.

People can have different reactions to fire ant stings, from itchy bites to a swollen foot or arm to a life-threatening allergic reaction.

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Normal and Allergic Reactions

It’s normal to have a small, itchy lump, which usually gets better in 30 to 60 minutes. Within 8-24 hours you may get a small blister filled with fluid that looks like pus (it’s actually dead tissue).

In rare cases, a severe allergic reaction could cause hives, abdominal cramping with nausea or diarrhea, tightness in the chest, trouble breathing, dizziness, and swelling of the tongue or throat. These symptoms can be life-threatening. If you have an Auvi-Q or Epi-Pen (epinephrine shot), use it. Then call 911 right away. You still need to go to the hospital, even if the shot worked.

Some people have larger reactions around the sting. For example, a sting on your arm might cause your whole arm to swell. If you’re otherwise OK, you can start treatment on your own and then see your doctor. Here's how:

  • Put ice on the sting off and on (15 minutes on, 15 minutes off). Use a towel. Don’t put ice directly on your skin and don’t use heat.
  • Elevate the area of the sting to reduce swelling.
  • Take an antihistamine and use a hydrocortisone cream to relieve itching.

If the sting is very large and painful your doctor may give you prescription antihistamines and steroids.

Reducing Your Risk

Once you have had a reaction to a fire ant sting, you have a 60% chance of having a similar or worse reaction if you are stung again. Ask your doctor about an Auvi-Q or EpiPen -- carry two injections with you if your doctor prescribes it -- and ask whether allergy shots would help.

To help reduce your risk of future stings:

  • Stay away from fire ant nests. Be careful when mowing the lawn.
  • Have a trained exterminator check for and get rid of fire ant nests around your home.
  • Wear shoes and socks when you walk outside.
  • Wear work gloves when you garden.

WebMD Medical Reference

Reviewed by Varnada Karriem-Norwood, MD on October 16, 2014

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