Fire ants are a major Texas problem. They didn't start that way.

Fire ants are not native to Texas. Fire ants arrived in Texas in the early 1900s in shipments of plants and dirt from South America. The red fire ants (Solenopsis invicta) are believed to have arrived in the 1930s through the port of Mobile, Alabama.

This crimson tide of crawly hurt swept across the entire South. Less than 100 years later, they span most of the southern US. They have even been introduced as far up the Atlantic Coast as Delaware, to the southwest, including New Mexico, Arizona, and Southern California.

Most recently, they have started spreading in Hawaii.

Fire ant stings hurt badly. Before you know it, if you are walking barefoot near a mound, you can be covered in them. They sting immediately. Even if you submerge your feet in the water, the ants will still bite unless you physically remove them.

A two-prong attack literally and figuratively causes the hurt caused by fire ants. The ants have two prong-like mandibles that bit onto the skin before they inject the venom. This makes them doubly effective at injecting their toxic poison into the body.

Photo by Doctorpedia via YouTube
Photo by Doctorpedia via YouTube

People can die from fire ant stings.  An early study from 1989 found that a total of 83 cases of fatal anaphylactic shock deaths resulted from red imported fire ant stings, 22 in Florida and 19 in Texas.

On average, 30 people die yearly due to ant bites in America, according to estimates from the Fire Ant Subcommittee of the American Academy of Allergy and Immunology.

It seems everyone has a favorite remedy for fire ant stings. Nothing in this article is meant to be taken as medical advice.

Estimates are that 4-5% of people who get fire ant bites go into anaphylactic shock, which can be fatal. If you begin to have trouble breathing, dizziness, swelling of the tongue or throat, confusion, or loss of consciousness after a fire ant bite, call 9-1-1 immediately.

The recommended treatments for fire ant bites after first washing it thoroughly with soap and water include:

1) Apply cold compresses to reduce swelling.

2) Use hydrocortisone cream on the skin for itching

3) taking an antihistamine to manage minor, localized allergic reactions and itching.

4) Apply a triple antibiotic ointment to the sting to prevent infection.

Red fire ant worker on tree. closeup


This can cause infection.

There are many if you are looking for a home remedy to treat your fire ant bites.  Several websites say they've tested them all and found that some work better than others. I'll throw it out there.  Tea tree oil is the best remedy I've ever found for fire ant bites.

Photo: Target
Photo: Target

I admit I haven't tried some of the others.  According to the viral website Convos With Karen, many of the accepted home remedies for fire ant bites do not work. Those include topical antihistamines like Benadryl and topical hydrocortisone creams. Fire ant stings inject venom, so these do not work on the poison, just the body's response to it.

Many people recommend baking soda. Three parts baking soda to one part water relieves the symptoms, but only for about 20 minutes. The same is true for toothpaste.

Many people recommend Preparation H. Fire ant stings burn and itch like hemorrhoids, so it should work in theory. It also contains pramoxine which is a topical pain reliever. It does alleviate the pain and itch.

Many websites, including Convos with Karen,  recommend vinegar or products that contain vinegar. If you decide to use it as a remedy, it is a good idea to:

1) Dilute the vinegar with equal parts of water.

2) Apply the solution by soaking a cotton ball and applying it to the sting for a few minutes.

3) Monitor the results. If symptoms worsen, stop using it and seek medical help.

The internet is full of weird fire ant sting remedies. One includes orange oil; another suggests honey. Yet another mentions an oil made from plantains.

Bottomline: scientific evidence supporting the effectiveness of home remedies for fire ant stings is very limited. Whatever home remedy you choose, realize it hasn't been thoroughly tested by science.  Just make sure whatever remedy you seek does not worsen matters.

Another good piece of advice for Texans outdoors is to wear shoes.

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