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Hey! A Fire Ant Stung Me!

What's a Fire Ant?

There are many different types of fire ants, and they are found throughout the southeastern and southwestern United States. The most common and aggressive kind is the red imported fire ant, which is reddish-brown and about 1/8-inch long (about half the size of a pencil eraser).

Red imported fire ants live in colonies that first nest in the ground, and then create a mound of dirt over the nest. These mounds can grow up to 18 inches high and over 2 feet wide!

Red imported fire ants' nests can be found on lawns, in parks, on playgrounds, in fields, and in pastures. Some red imported fire ants create nests in walls of buildings.

What a Sting Looks and Feels Like

A person who gets stung by a fire ant will feel a sharp pain and burning. Someone who steps on a fire ant mound will get a lot of stings at once because the ants have been disturbed where they all live together. Each sting will turn into an itchy white blister over the next day.

What You Should Do

If you ever think that you have been stung by a fire ant, tell an adult immediately. That's because the venom (poison) in the sting can cause the area around it to swell up quite a bit, and a doctor may want to have a look to make sure you are not having an allergic reaction.

The symptoms of an allergic reaction include hives (red patches on the skin that sting and itch), nausea, dizziness, a tight feeling in the throat, or trouble breathing. Someone who has these symptoms needs to get medical attention right away.

But usually, you can follow these steps after a fire ant sting:

  • Wash the area with soap and water.
  • Apply a cold compress (like ice wrapped in a clean towel) to the area.
  • Check with the doctor if you have redness, swelling, or itching.

What a Doctor Will Do

The doctor may suggest that your mom or dad give you a medicine called an antihistamine to control swelling and itching. If you have a more serious allergic reaction to a fire ant sting, the doctor may give you a shot that fights the reaction. People who know that they are allergic to fire ant stings also sometimes carry emergency medicine that they can give to themselves to prevent a severe reaction from happening.

How to Avoid Getting Stung

The best way to avoid getting stung by fire ants is to keep your shoes on when playing in areas that could have fire ant mounds. If you come across one, don't ever poke at it or try to play with it.

Note: All information on KidsHealth® is for educational purposes only. For specific medical advice, diagnoses, and treatment, consult your doctor.

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