Red Ants Reaction and Treatment: What is a True Allergic Reaction to Red Ants?

Fire ant bites are painful, but allergic reactions are rare. Image by Stephen Ausmus

The red ant grasps human skin with its tiny mandibles and spews its venom under the skin resulting instantaneously in pain.

Usually there are several ants biting at a time, and the bites appear as white pustules or yellowish blisters on a raised red base.

The bites are itchy and painful, and expel a clear liquid when they burst.

Fire Ant Bites: Ouch

Red ants, also known as fire ants, are part of a species with hundreds of variants. We find the dark red tiny ant in South America, and throughout the southern United States, Australia, Taiwan, and the Phillipines, to name a few – most typically in sunny, sandy places.

While not all red ants are vicious biting ants, you will certainly be wary of the powerful sting these tiny insects can render if you are bitten – especially if you are bitten more than once.




When you get several fire ant bites there is often surrounding swelling, say on a foot or hand, and moderate to extreme discomfort. It is at this point that you may find yourself at your doctor’s office, wondering what to do – and further wondering if you are allergic to the ants, or if you have an infection.

This foot swelled after several fire ant bites. Photo by lisavollrath

What is a True Red Ant Bite Allergy?

Scratching raised red ant bites can open the skin, resulting in infection. There is then more erythema (redness) and swelling and even more discomfort.

This isn’t an allergy, nor is the initial bite response of a raised reddened pustule, nor even the accompanying swelling a sign of allergic reaction. These are all normal reactions to the bite itself.

An true allergic reaction is a systemic result of the bite(s). There might be a change in blood pressure, swelling on another untouched part of the body, such as the tongue or face or the entire leg when only the foot is bitten.

There might be shortness of breath, or even passing out. People who are allergic to ant bites might carry an epi-pen with them so they can easily give themselves a shot of epinephrine in their thigh (right through pants if necessary) until help can come.

Swarms of red ants after storms or in large piles have bitten humans, and the sheer number of bites can cause death or allergic reactions, although this is rare. These extreme attacks are not the norm and thus are reported in the news such as the attacks in 2006 and 2008.

Red Ant Bite Treatment

The typical treatment for the unfortunate person bitten begins with washing the area with an alcohol wipe. This helps diminish the stinging effect temporarily and cleans the site. Next, you can apply a steroid cream, such as an over the counter hydrocortisone cream, locally. Scratching the blister roof off may put you at risk of locally infecting yourself, so try to leave the bumps alone as much as possible. Try an over the counter antihistamine (allergy pills) to help reduce the itching, or making meat tenderizer into a paste and applying it to the skin to treat symptoms. Benadryl is helpful for itching and swelling, but has a sedative effect for many people. Over time, the bite eventually ulcerates and the redness gradually recedes.

Fire Ants: When to See a Doctor

Most people get over an ant bite with a few days – if your bites are getting worse instead of better, or if you have any health concerns, always check with your doctor. Remember, ants don’t bite people unless they step in their area – that is, they don’t attack humans, but wait till they feel threatened. The ants may not be out to get you, and you may not suffer a severe allergic reaction, but their bite does hurt, so be prepared.

Sources

Pest World.org. Red Imported Fire Ants. (2012). Accessed December 7, 2012.

University of Florida. Featured Creatures Red Imported Fire Ant. (2012). Accessed December 7, 2012.

Source: Fact Sheet 041, Welcome to Texas! Avoiding the Sting of Fire AntsAccessed December 7, 2012.

ABC News. Beware of Bugs. (2006). Accessed December 7, 2012.

Pravada.ru. Fire Ant Bites Kill Florida Man. (2008). Accessed December 7, 2012.

© Copyright 2012 Amy Andersen, All rights Reserved. Written For: Decoded Science
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Comments

  1. Beverly says

    Fire ants are both red and black, although the red varieties may be more prevalent in the U.S. I’ve been bitten by both, and the red was probably worse because it affected most of my arm with just one ant. The black ones attacked my left foot, and I had a full-body reaction that was bad. But on both occasions I ended up with infectious lesions all over my body. I talked to friends, and they said they had the same. The allergic reaction is far from rare. It is only rare in the U.S. because there are few fire ants. We joke about being “diseased” from the ant attacks.

  2. Teresa says

    Hey I got bit a few days ago ended up with huge blisters the doctor gave me antibiotics and steroids but 2 days later one of the blisters is a funny color almost a green hue to it. Should I go back to the Dr’s?

  3. says

    “An true allergic reaction is a systemic result of the bite(s). There might be a change in blood pressure, swelling on another untouched part of the body, such as the tongue or face or the entire leg when only the foot is bitten.” well, it seems I have to rethink the way I look at this allergy.

  4. Amy Andersen says

    Ant bites look dramatic on small bodies but if it has gotten smaller and baby is eating and sleeping normally, it should be fine. Usually a newborn is checked when ever something out of the norm happens and if you haven’t had a 6 week follow up, have the baby seen and the bite checked. Call your office for advice.

  5. Heather says

    Has any one had a seven week old get buy by an ant. Is this an age that he would need to go to the dr if the whole area is red

  6. Jean Savage says

    I was bitten badly on feet, ankles legs when l stood on a red ant (Vietnamese fire ants imported to UK) which resulted in red bite sites and a white blister appeared when touched – l showered but over night my both legs (the left much worse) around ankle, feet and
    calf swollen twice the size and the pain was unbearable l couldn’t walk properly. Finally after several visits to doctors being treated for ulcerated legs as l wasn’t believed red ants had bitten me l still am suffering badly and all skin on lower limbs has blistered and l can’t keep bite wounds from weeping puss – the pain is horrific still – what can you advise me to do please l can’t sleep or walk with pain in lower limbs – l have taken pictures of my bites if you wish to see them to assess – please email me on jeansavage88@btinternet.com to advise – the UK had Vietanese red ant (fire ants) imported into the uk back in 1970s to cutdown our original dark brown ant which was breeding out of hand. The fundamental idea was for the red ants to kill off the brown ants but this didn’t happened and now in Bournville Birmingham B30 we are overrun with an ant problem – the red ants build a mound of sand or loose soil where their nests are and are much smaller than the brown ant we have – if you touch their nest with a stick immediately the red ants attack in very large numbers – my front garden is off limits as a result – l am, however, very concerned my red ant bites haven’t been treated correctly as l had an allergic reaction due to the large number of bites – l was treated for ulcerated legs had no injections to treat bites which had blistered and my whole lower limbs are now full of fluid from bites and infection – please get in touch or out me in contact with an medical expert for treatment – regards Jean Savage NHS

  7. says

    i just have an doubt about there ants, that is while a mosquito bites it gets blood from human so that it bites human ;but for what purpose the ants are biting human ,this is my doubt please clarify my dubt

  8. james wilson says

    If you are bitten or stung from fire ants beware . 47 got me at one time . I was down for 2 weeks. My entire leg was killing me. The pain was from the hip down to my toes. I had to walk with a cane because the pain was too much to bare. The swelling in my leg was terrible. After 2 weeks it started getting better. Make sure you see your doctor and tell them about the ant bites. So please be careful. Thanks

  9. Darla Dollman says

    I was standing in my garden in Texas once when I realized I was also standing in red ants. I was wearing sandals and it took a few incredibly painful seconds to get out of the red ants and removed my shoes. By that time I’d swear the ant on my big toe had taken a bite out of my skin! I’m not sure if they eat humans, but people tell stories in Texas about red ants crawling onto baby animals at night and killing them. It sure felt like I was having an allergic reaction, but after reading this I think it was just normal red ant pain!

  10. Pl New Orleans says

    My daughter was bitten 5 times by black ants which may have been fire ants. Within 5 minutes she was complaining she was cold and her ears hurt. 15 minutes later as we pull into the restaurant we were to eat at she, rubbing her ears fiercely, seemed lethargic and unable to walk. Getting a better look at her I see her face is swollen and eyelids are covered in a rash. Her ears seemed like twice their normal size. I rushed her to the hospital which was a ten minute drive by which time she seemed to be more aware and able to talk. By the time the doctor saw her she was laughing and her normal self aside from slight swelling in her face and a rash covering most of her body. After a short observation period and 8ml of benadryl we were given the go ahead and dismissed. This happened 2 days ago and after 24 hours of benadryl everything seems normal. She’s a toddler about 30 lbs. Amy thoughts

  11. Amy AndersenAmy Andersen says

    Thanks for sharing George. I hope you recover quickly from the red ant bites. You can see why they are called fire ants sometimes.

  12. George Saufley says

    Apparently Rochester NH has European fire ants was mowing lawn went into house had supper after supper started itching all over I noticed miniature brown ants on my arm not thinking I rubbed them off my arm.. Broke out all over with a rash all over my body.. An ulcer the size of a nickel appeared on my leg. My .Asthma and allergy specialist said, it was the result of European fire ants., Have to have my general practitioner look at the ulcer on my leg. He might send me to a skin specialist.

  13. says

    I got bit by an ant, & I have no bumps, but I know I got bit, it was 2 days ago. Both my feet itch really badly, mostly at night. I now have red rash on my shoulders & on my stomach, but my feet itch & kinda hurt, but there are no bumps. This has happened once before & my feet itched for weeks.

  14. Amy Andersen says

    The bites may appear a few days after being bitten by red ants. They usually resolve in the order of they appeared, that is not all at once.

    • Gracie M. says

      Hey I got bit yesterday in four places one behind my ear,two on my foot and ,one on my stomach. The one on my stomach and the two on my foot swelling went down but the one on the back of my ear hasn’t went down. My ear is twice the size of the other one and I am getting concerned. Should I see a doctor?

  15. Teresa Abell says

    Just curious…I got into some fire ants while gardening and ended up with several bites. This was 2 days ago and I’ve got more bites surfacing? What’s up with them surfacing this long after the original bites in different places?

  16. Jared says

    I was bitten on Wednesday morning while working in the yard by several fire ants. At first it hurt but nothing that made me think it was serious. By that night it has gotten a little worse but still nothing to cause alarm. The following day, when I woke up the pain as worse as well as the swelling. It has continued to get much worse since then. I now have a lot of trouble walking and carrying out simple activities without excruciating pain. Is this due to an allergic reaction?

    • Amy AndersenAm Andersen says

      Jared, Im sorry this happened to you. I know its painful. Unfortunately, this is the series of events when you have gotten bitten by a lot of red ants. It does get worse before getting better. The swelling is due to the fluid in the vesicles. Once that dissolves you will have less pain and can walk normally. But if you have many bites and aren’t getting better, its best to get yourself checked out medically. You may need steroids or other medication to for your recovery.

      • rebekah anne talbot says

        We r trying to take care of a 3 year old that is miserable right now! She had a popcicle and, was attacked severly so we r following 1. Bynadril cream oatmeal baths tomorrow and trying to keep her inside we r in Arizona so not really sure what type they r! Any ideas please? Thx

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