When your body is highly allergic to a foreign substance, such as the bite venom from a fire ant, a reaction called anaphylaxis occurs. Although reactions to a fire ant bite are usually mild, including symptoms such as itching, burning and minor swelling, severe allergic reactions can lead to anaphylactic shock, which might result in death. Knowing the symptoms of an anaphylactic reaction from a fire ant bite helps you identify and treat it as soon as possible.
When a fire ant feels threatened, the entire hive swarms its victim, imparting tiny bites to its body. These bites transfer venom that results in pain and irritation. For a person without a severe allergy to the ants, a single bite, or even multiple bites, results in painful lesions on the skin. Sometimes the lesions fill with pus and they resemble tiny pimples. The lesions tend to itch, but you can find relief with ice packs and over-the-counter pain relievers.
According to the Texas Imported Fire Ant Research and Management Project at Texas A&M University, less than 1 per cent of the world's population is highly allergic to fire ant bites and could die from a fire ant bite. Those most likely to experience severe reactions include young children and infants, the elderly, and anyone with a weakend immune system. For a healthy person, anaphylaxis can still occur if a large number of ants sting at once.
For people highly allergic to fire ant bites and those with weakened immune systems, anaphylactic reactions might occur. When the bite occurs, the body releases histamines en masse into the bloodstream. This causes blood vessels to dilate, blood pressure to drop, and the body to develop swelling and hives, all usually within minutes of the initial bite. Symptoms range from mild to severe, but even mild swelling can result in death if untreated, because a swollen airway or tongue limits oxygen intake. Some people also complain of nausea or cramping in the stomach, often accompanied by vomiting or diarrhoea.
Treatments vary depending on the severity of the reaction and where you are when you receive treatment. Epinephrine, an injection of adrenalin, is the quickest way to minimise swelling and return the body to normal function. If you know you have a fire ant allergy, carry an epinephrine self-injection kit with you to counteract any allergic reactions. Antihistamines are the other option. If you do not have access to a self-injection kit and medical attention is not an immediate option, taking an over-the-counter antihistamine might stop or slow the reaction. However, even after taking the antihistamine, seek medical attention as soon as possible, because symptoms can return after they have lessened.