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Fire ants


Fire ants are red-colored insects. A sting from a fire ant delivers a harmful substance, called venom, into your skin.

This article is for information only. DO NOT use it to treat or manage an actual fire ant sting. If you or someone you are with is stung, call your local emergency number (such as 911) or the National Poison Control Center at 1-800-222-1222.

Poisonous Ingredient

Fire ant venom contains a chemical called piperidine.

Where Found

Fire ants build dirt nests that form mounds, usually in open, grassy settings. They are typically found in the southern United States and other areas that do not freeze in winter.


Symptoms of a fire ant sting may include:

  • Swelling, redness, itchiness, and pain around the site of the bite
  • Pus-filled blisters that last 3 to 8 days
  • Possible scab at the area of the bite that lasts 3 to 10 days

Those allergic to fire ant venom may also have:

  • Difficulty breathing
  • Rapid heart rate
  • Throat swelling

Home Care

Home treatment depends on the location of, and reaction to, the sting.

Wash the exposed area with plenty of soap and water. DO NOT use alcohol to wash the area. Wash the eyes with plenty of water if any venom gets in them.

For mild stings, place ice (wrapped in a clean cloth) on the bite area for 10 minutes and then off for 10 minutes. Repeat this process. If the person has problems with blood circulation, decrease the time to prevent possible damage to the skin.

Some people are allergic to fire ant venom. If the reaction is severe, seek medical help right away and call your local emergency number (such as 911) or poison control.

Those who have an allergy to insect bites or stings should carry a bee sting kit and know how to use it an emergency. These kits require a prescription.

Before Calling Emergency

Have this information ready:

  • Person's age, weight, and condition
  • The type of insect, if possible
  • Time of the bite

Poison Control

The National Poison Control Center (1-800-222-1222) can be called from anywhere in the United States. This national hotline number will let you talk to experts in poisoning. They will give you further instructions.

This is a free and confidential service. All local poison control centers in the United States use this national number. You should call if you have any questions about poisoning or poison prevention. It does NOT need to be an emergency. You can call for any reason, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

What to Expect at the Emergency Room

The health care provider will measure and monitor the person's vital signs, including temperature, pulse, breathing rate, and blood pressure. The wound will be treated as appropriate.

The person may receive:

  • Breathing support, including oxygen
  • EKG (electrocardiogram, or heart tracing)
  • Intravenous fluids (through a vein)
  • Medicines to treat symptoms

Outlook (Prognosis)

The sooner appropriate treatment is started, the better the outcome. People who are not allergic to fire ants should be fine in a few hours to a few days. People with severe allergic reactions may need to stay in the hospital.


Nogar JN, Clark RF. Arthropod bites and stings. In: Adams JG, ed. Emergency Medicine. 2nd ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2013:chap 140.

Otten EJ. Venomous animal injuries. In: Marx JA, ed. Rosen's Emergency Medicine - Concepts and Clinical Practice. 8th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2014:chap 62.

Review Date:7/12/2015
Reviewed By:Jacob L. Heller, MD, MHA, Emergency Medicine, Virginia Mason Medical Center, Seattle, Washington. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Isla Ogilvie, PhD, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.

The information provided herein should not be used during any medical emergency or for the diagnosis or treatment of any medical condition. A licensed medical professional should be consulted for diagnosis and treatment of any and all medical conditions. Call 911 for all medical emergencies. Links to other sites are provided for information only -- they do not constitute endorsements of those other sites. © 1997-A.D.A.M., Inc. Any duplication or distribution of the information contained herein is strictly prohibited.

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Additionally, while health information provided through this website may be a valuable resource for the public, it is not designed to offer medical advice. Talk with your doctor about medical care questions you may have.

Outcome Data

No data available for this condition/procedure.

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