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Ant Stings and Remedies

Fire ants are everywhere on Fort Bragg. I have a rule - first look where I step and then look for bugs. However, today I stepped up onto a cement garden border and just like that I have at least 10 fire ant bites. I thought I would share some of the ant bite rememdies I've found on the web. Keep in mind I'm just sharing information here....not recommending any specific treatment. Also keep in mind that some of these remedies may work for certain types of ant bites and not for others.

Mixing chlorine-containing substances like bleach or cleanser with ammonia creates a deadly poisonous gas- so use either the bleach or the window cleaner, but not both!

1. Meat Tenderizer -

Meat tenderizer in the acute treatment of imported fire ant stings.

Ross EV Jr, Badame AJ, Dale SE.

Meat tenderizer containing the proteolytic enzyme papain was tested for therapeutic efficacy in the sting of the imported fire ant. The parameters of pain and itching were used to evaluate qualitatively the sting response in 22 healthy medical students, and the laser Doppler velocimeter was used to assess quantitatively the change in cutaneous blood flow. The results indicated that, during the acute-phase reaction, no clinically or statistically significant difference was found between stings treated with meat tenderizer and stings treated without tenderizer. Therefore we conclude that meat tenderizer is of no therapeutic value in the acute treatment of the imported fire ant sting. (1)

2. Baking Soda & Benedryl-

The venom is quite toxic. It immediately causes a temporary burning sensation, then an itchy wheal ("whelp"), and eventually forms a pustule in about 8 to 24 hours which is the result of sterile tissue breakdown from the venom and pus accumulation. They resolve in about 10 days. A late reaction consisting of a large surrounding area of red, hard, and very itchy skin is commonly seen, and can be confused with a bacterial infection (cellulitis).

Bites are treated with cool compresses, followed by application of a paste made with baking soda. Sarna® lotion (0.5%camphor + 0.5% menthol) is soothing, especially if it is refrigerated. Meat tenderizer, useful for jellyfish stings, is however of no value. Oral antihistamines such as Benadryl® (diphenhydramine) provide some relief. A short course of steroids is sometimes prescribed for severe local reactions.

Parents are sometimes tempted to prick open the characteristic little white pustules on the skin, thinking that they appear to be infected. However, the fire ant venom is toxic to bacteria as well, so the pustule that forms is sterile, and should not be opened but allowed to eventually flake off. (2)

3. Diluted Bleach -

Dr. Barry Paull...said the fire ant's venom is an oily alkaloid mixed with a little protein, and your one chance to lessen the effect of the bite is to quickly break down the protein. He recommends dabbing the bite with diluted bleach or covering it with a paste of meat tenderizer and water. This method is not effective if more than 15 minutes have passed. Another option is to treat stings with an insect bite remedy containing benzocaine or other ingredients that deaden pain and protect against infection.

"If you are especially sensitive to fire ant stings, you should see an allergist," Paull says. He says if a sting leads to chest pains, nausea, severe sweating, loss of breath, serious swelling or slurred speech, the person should be taken to an emergency medical facility immediately. (3)

For those suffering just pain and the development of pustules, a simple solution of half
bleach and half water applied immediately to the area can reduce the pain, itching and, perhaps, pustule formation. It is essential to apply it quickly (Vinson and Sorenson 1986).(4)

4. Ammonia -

Fire ants have a unique venom which is an oily alkaloid mixed with a little protein and your one chance to lessen the pain from the sting is to quickly break down the protein. fire ant stings can be treated by dabbing the bite with ammonia or diluted bleach (1:1 bleach and water). However, this method doesn't work if more than 15 minutes have passed. (5)

5. Vinegar -

Fire ants do not use formic acid in their sting, they use a cocktail of an alkaloid (a base) that is also toxic and allergenic proteins (induce an allergic effect in the body, by forcing the mass production of class E immunoglobins (IgEs). since the sting is a base, it does not make sense for ammonia or baking soda to treat a FIRE ANT sting. bases do not neutralize bases, they raise the pH. something more like white vinegar (acetic acid)or a weak acid would work(formic acid) to neutralize the sting. (Omar Fahmy)

Mentioned in the Dr's Book of Home Remedies, it kills the itch and stinging for a while, just re-apply when itching again. (6)

Fire Ant bites
Just got a bunch of fire ant bites around my ankles (wearing Crocs with no socks). Found this site and used a combo of things. Wiped with peroxide, then diluted bleach. Slathered Mangnesium paste on (I keep this on hand for my horses, it's cleaner than drawing salve and draws out toxins). Wiped that off and took 2 benedryl and made a paste of mentholated oil, meat tenderizer and baking soda. Applied, put on socks and put a baggie of ice on each ankle under the socks. the ice has melted and the itching has stopped. The redness is virtually gone and no itch. Which thing worked, don't know or care. Itching has gone and redness as well. It's now been a hour and 1/2.

Tucks pads...
Tucks pads...

Fire at bites
I have been allergic to fire ant stings for over 40 years. And they love me!! I have tried all the suggestions; bleach, alcohol, vinegar, ammonia, baking soda, tenderizer, (not 40D oil yet) none of them work. Our body is telling us how to fight these stings. First, you itch. Your body's natural reaction is to scratch. Yes, with clean body and hand and any tools, as soon as the pustule appears, scratch it off. It will continue to itch for a week if you don't remove the irritant, but start healing immediately when the poison is removed.. The initial itch until the pustule appears is enough - nothing works then. (I just had about 50 bites yesterday and suffered last night!) But when the bite has responded with nature's defense mechanism, help it along. Before the wound pustulates, and during the hearing, using Cortisone.10. It is OTC Nature doesn't give us "natural reactions" just to thwart us.

Allergy to ant stings
Allergies to ant and other insect bites and stings can be deadly to many of us out here. I am in my mid 60's and have been allergic to most insect bites and stings all my life. I was 5 when I had my first reaction to fire ants and got to spend 3 weeks in the hospital from that episode. I have extremely severe reactions, including anaphylactic shock, to insects and many foods. I am required to keep an epi pen at all times. This is hard to do at times and I love to garden which makes it worse.

I have found something which seems to help when I get stung or bit by one of my offending list. I make what amounts to a facial mask from beaten a egg white and ground up cucumber. This seems to help draw some of the poison out of the sting or bite which lessens my reaction.

Hope this might help others out there that have severe reactions.

50 bites yesterday
Yikes, I feel for you. The last time I had bites they plagued me for a month.

meat tenderizer
truly works. Whenever I get stung, (a lot!) I always put meat tenderizer on the sting. The only thing I don't like about it is the texture. I think it is kind of a gross feeling.

Just to tell everyone about a product that I’ve found helpful…it is really effective at treating things like fire ant bites, as well as bee or wasps stings and other insect bites/stings. It’s an ointment called Stops the Sting that relieves pain when applied to the affected area almost immediately. It also neutralizes the venom and helps minimize itching, swelling, and blisters. I think it’s a relatively new product though, so you might not be able to find it unless you order it online. If you want to look at the website, it’s

Use of Baking Soda
I heard about using baking soda on fire ant bites so I found a mound near my house and let a several of RIFA sting me. I made a paste of baking soda and water and applied it to some of the stings leaving some for controls. The stings I treated did not blister up or itch while those left untreated blistered and reacted as normal. I have used baking soda many times since always with positive results. I don't know why it works, just that it does.

What About Euro Or 'Northern' Fire Ants?
What works best for stings from the Myrmica species? I know they're not true 'fire ants', but we've got 'em nonetheless and some susceptible people are having bad reactions with pain, swelling and persistent pustules that last for several days.

Just got bit on the stomach...
Think I might just wait and see how it plays out... About 20 minutes since bite- swelling has stopped but redness continues to grow, starting to itch a bit, but still some lingering pain.

another one...
you can also go to the local supermarket and buy an sting/ bite suction cup thing and you use it to suck out the venom.

just for clarification...
most ants that do sting, bite then inject formic acid formic acid in their sting (which is what burns). therfore any relatively weak base would work. the base neutralizes the acid to a "nonstinging pH".

formic acid is relatively weak acid compared to sulfuric and hydrochloric acid and the ants dont really inject alot, but many sting. common household weak bases include milk, baking soda or ammonia(which is much stronger than milk). the same idea goes for bee stings which are also acidic and the opposite works for wasp stings, which are basic, which leads me to my next point...

fire ants do not use formic acid in their sting, they use a cocktail of an alkaloid (a base) that is also toxic and allergenic proteins (induce an allergic effect in the body, by forcing the mass production of class E immunoglobins (IgEs). since the sting is a base, it does not make sense for ammonia or baking soda to treat a FIRE ANT sting. bases do not neutralize bases, they raise the pH. something more like white vinegar (acetic acid)or a weak acid would work(formic acid) to neutralize the sting.

let me conclude by saying if the ammonia (only) worked for all of you, then you were not possibly bit/stung by FIRE ANTS, maybe another species of stinging ants. what made you feel better was the antihistamine, which decreases and inhibits IgE production and their allergic effects (benadryl, e.g.)

Fire Ant bites
I was bitten by a fire ant in Florida (I now live in CA) in 1998.
My question is can someone have outbreaks of pain and itching from a bite that old? I have had several outbreaks in the same area with the same symptoms of pain and itching right after the bite.
Thanks for your input.

I've never heard of anything like that.
I think you should consider other causes. According to what I've read no insect venom can stay in the body for more than a few hours. Here is an interesting short article...

Thanks Lynette what you have pointed out sounds reasonable...will look for another cause.

Yes, I am getting bitten by FIRE ANTS. I've read bleach, no bleach, do this and do that. I guess it comes down to what works for the individual person.
Doing a search on google brings up a ton of different remedies from hot water, cold water, meat tenderizer to bleach. Here is one excerpt from
"First aid for the stings includes
1. Move rapidly away from the nest
2. Quickly remove or kill ants on skin and clothing – to prevent further stings
3. Wash the area gently with soap and water to rid the skin of any venom on it
4. Disinfect bite with alcohol
5. Place cool cloth or ice cloth on sites for 15 minutes
6. Try dabbing the site with one of the following: diluted (1:1) bleach solution, Kleen ‘Em Away Naturally, calamine Lotion, Enzyme cleaner or meat tenderizer
7. Consider a spraying topical (cortisone) or systemic (oral) antihistamine (e.g. benadryl)"

Carla Finley
Venice, FL

Omar, thank you for this information. Do you have on online medical site that I can use as a reference?

3 sites
check out this government website

an ehow page

an emedicine page

After trying all these...
I would suggest carrying "After Bite" with you when in the field. Ammonia seems to be the thing that works best. See various types here.

I get bitten many times a week. You would think after living here for 8 years I would look before I stand still. Ammonia is what everyone here suggests. It didn't help when I tried it the first time, but it was more than 15 minutes later. Got stung 16 times at one standing and had them clear up my slacks past my knee. Sorry to be so long winded. What I'm getting at is now I carry a small bottle of ammonia with me.
Carla Finley
Venice, FL

Very useful list
- I was horribly stung last year and did some similar research myself. Now I run for glass cleaner - for its ammonia content - when I feel a sting. It has worked very well for me. I have also found ammonia listed as a remedy for wheel bug bites, which makes me think the rest of your list might be relevant for that too - I will link from the wheel bug page.

Window cleaner? :)
I was just bitten by fire ants about 25 minutes ago (~ 12 of them!). I've always had terrible reactions to fire ants, so I immediately hit panic mode.

Ammonia has worked for me in the past, but I couldn't find my kit. I didn't think to use window cleaner, but that's a good one Hannah!

So here's what I did, and I'd say it was quite successful since my foot still looks like a foot (a single bite reaction has been known to engulf whole parts of my feet in blistery, pussy inflamation).

1) Tore apart medicine cabinet, couldn't find the ammonia, so I gobbed tons of OTC hydrocortizone cream.

2) Feeling hopeless, I also slathered Benzocaine cream all over my foot to hopefully avoid the burning/itchiness altogether.

3) Next, I downed 2 benedryl pills with a bottle of water

-15 min post-bite-
4) Consulted google --> read about bleach --> dumped ~ 1/2 bleach & 1/2 water into bathroom sink and proceeded to wipe all bite areas with it.

5) THIS IS THE INTERESTING PART: I hung myself upside-down for ~ 15 minutes... yes, that's right. Upside-down for 15 minutes...

I knew it meant the difference between a good summer vacation vs a bad summer vacation, so I did everything I could, including restricting blood flow (and thus, inflamation) to my foot by hanging upside down (on a quality inversion table which I happen to have for scoliosis pains). I don't know which approach was most effective, but this worked for me...

And now the Benedryl is REALLY kicking in, so... ZZZzzzzzz

Inflamation STOPPED at ~15 minute wheel & flare stage (hydrocortizone, bleach, benedryl, elevation of extremity?) and I have NO itching/burning sensations at all (benzocain?).

Next time I'll do all the same things, but add windex for good measure. I'll also be waging a personal war against those back yard fire ants for the rest of my vacation... muahahahaha!!!!

Arggggg they are stings not b
Arggggg they are stings not bites.

Mixing chlorine-containing substances like bleach or cleanser with ammonia creates a deadly poisonous gas- so use either the bleach or the window cleaner, but not both!

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