Ouch! Fire Ant Reactions

fire ant allergiesINSECT ALLERGIES: The fire ant is a year-round threat here in Florida.

Fire ants build subterranean nests with as many as 230,000 insects in residence. When the nest is disturbed, the ants attack in mass and repeatedly sting their victim.

Allergic reactions are the result of a specific immune response to the venom injected into the skin. Previous venom exposure is necessary for one to become sensitized, therefore, people can almost always recall a well tolerated sting in the past. Large local swelling and discomfort at the site of a sting is a normal response to the toxins within the venom and should not be confused with an allergic reaction.

Symptoms of an allergic reaction can be limited to the skin as hives or involve multiple organs, referred to as anaphylaxas (dizziness, weakness, swelling of nose, lips, tongue and throat, nausea, stomach cramps, breathlessness, or loss of consciousness). The allergic reaction usually begins within minutes, but can be delayed in rare situations for 20 minutes or more.

Initial treatment depends on the nature of the reaction. The non-allergic local reaction should subside uneventfully over 48 hours, but on occasion will require the application of ice, elevation if possible, and rarely, oral corticosteroids. Once the reaction is no longer local, i.e. swelling at distant sites from the sting or other anaphylactic symptoms, emergency help should be sought. An antihistamine will reduce the swelling and itching of hives, but do little for the more critical organ involvement (respiratory, heart and vascular). In an Emergency Room, epinephrine (adrenaline) will be given immediately to slow or stop the reaction. In some cases, further therapy with intravenous fluids, oxygen and medications will be necessary.

Q: I tried a fire ant bait once and it didn’t seem to work. Did I do something wrong?

A: Maybe. Fire ants think the bait is food, making the time of bait application crucial to the success of the treatment. If the ants are not out gathering food, then they won’t pick up the bait. Bait is most effective within the first few days of application. It is also important to apply the right amount. With most baits, 1 to 1.5 lbs. per acre works well. When treating individual mounds do not place the bait on the mound. Uniformly spread the bait 3 to 4 feet around the mound for best results.