You may not see ants as a threat, as they're found everywhere from your house to your yard and anywhere in between. However, there are a few species that can cause you trouble. One such species is the fire ant.
What Are Fire Ants and Where Are They From?
Firstly, it's important to realize that fire ants is a blanket term used to classify a number of different ants with similar characteristics. There are three main kinds of fire ants within the United States: red ants, ginger ants and tropical ants. Each of these vary in both their numbers and associated dangers.
The most aggressive fire ants, and one of the most widespread, are the red imported fire ants (RIFA for short). These ants are indigenous to South America (hence the name "imported"), however they have made their way into the United States due to the transportation of goods. Most RIFA groups are found along the southern belt, particularly within Texas, California and Florida.
What Makes Them So Dangerous?
Well, for one, their stings are particularly painful; more so than your typical bedbug bites. RIFA bites cause pain that can last for around 10 minutes, however it's the aftermath that really hurts. After the initial pain has subsided, the sting mark turns red, irritated and swollen. If this isn't treated immediately, a pustule may form.
As with any sting, the affected area can become extremely itchy. It's human nature to scratch the areas in order to remove the irritation, however this can be a very bad move. Scratching the area will chafe the skin, causing the surface to become damaged. Once the wound is opened, bacteria has a very easy entry point into your system that can cause further infection of the wound. Therefore, although it may difficult, you should always avoid scratching the affected area until proper treatment has been provided.
What Does a Fire Ant Sting Look Like?
As RIFA stings can be very painful, you'll usually feel the sting before you see it. You'll feel a burning sensation around the area, followed by an intense feeling of itchiness. Once these symptoms have died down, the area will become red and swollen, usually following by the appearance of a white blister on the skin.
What Should I Do If Stung?
The best way to avoid the more uncomfortable symptoms of RIFA stings is to act quickly. If the sting is allowed to develop -- particularly if infection occurs -- then it can bring some particularly nasty side effects. Consider the following tips for addressing the problem:
- First thing's first, get out of the area you were stung in. Fire ants like to adopt the mob mentality, where they will swarm around their victim once they discover what has happened. Remove yourself from the site and pat down yourself down in case a few stragglers have managed to cling on to you.
- Wash the affected area with soap and cold water. Cold water is better as it will help numb the pain and limit any swelling.
- If swelling has occurred, apply a cold compress on the sting mark. Once the compress begins to warm up, switch it out for a new one. You should do this at various points throughout the day, particularly in the few days following injury.
- Consider taking antihistamines to reduce itching.There are a number of products on the market, however Benadryl is considered to be the most effective for itching.
What If I'm Allergic to Fire Ant Stings?
Some people may experience allergic reactions to RIFA stings. Typically, this won't happen if you're stung once or twice, however if the ants are allowed to sting many times then allergic reactions may be induced. The three telltale warning signs are:
- Extensive Swelling: Most RIFA stings will swell a little bit, however if this becomes excessive then it's likely due to anaphylactic or allergic reactions. It's important to address this immediately, as swelling of the tongue can compromise breathing.
- Breathing Difficulties: If your breathing becomes laborious, or is compromised from swelling, then you are suffering an allergic reaction and need immediate treatment.
- Fainting: Allergic reactions can cause a rapid drop in blood pressure, which can lead to fainting.
The three symptoms above indicate situations where you (or whoever is experiencing them) requires immediate medical treatment. There are a number of minor signs to look out for as well, such as abdominal pains, tightness in the chest or a sore throat.