When it comes to allergies caused by insects, fire ants are included in the list of insects capable of triggering an allergic reaction among highly sensitive individuals. The imported fire ant is considered as a type of stinging ant that is known to trigger an allergic reaction in an individual after a bite.
The risk for a fire ant bite is higher among those who engage in outdoor hobbies and occupations such as gardening and outdoor sports. In some circumstances, fire ants are also known to sting indoors including in private homes, nursing homes and hotels.
Once fire ants come upon humans, they have the tendency to sting. In most cases, an individual is usually stung several times and by several ants. The ant grasps the skin using its jaw and folds its hind end beneath in order to deliver a sting. The ant will remove its stinger, rotate in a circle-like manner and deliver a sting again. Fire ants are small in size and usually black or red in color. They thrive in large-sized colonies in the ground and usually build mounds.
Allergic reaction to fire ants
The reactions to fire ant stings are quite common and various types of reactions can occur.
These occur in almost all cases involving fire ant stings and typically include localized swelling, pain and redness at the sting site. Within 24 hours, a pus-filled blister will develop at the sting site. Take note that this blister is not infected since it is caused by a component of the fire ant venom.
Large localized reactions
These reactions might be allergic in nature and occur in some individuals who are stung by the fire ant. The symptoms often include a large area of swelling, pain, redness and itchiness at the sting site and these occur 12-24 hours of being stung.
An allergic reaction involving the entire body is called anaphylaxis which can occur in highly sensitive individuals who were stung by fire ants. This reaction can be severe and even life-threatening. The symptoms of anaphylaxis from fire ant stings include any of the following:
- Itchiness, flushing, hives or swelling that spreads from the sting site
- Runny nose, sneezing episodes or postnasal drip
- Watery or itchy eyes
- Swelling of the lips, tongue or throat
- Wheezing, coughing or shortness of breath
- Abdominal cramps, nausea, vomiting or diarrhea
- Low blood pressure, rapid heart rate or lightheadedness
- Metallic taste in the mouth
- Sense of panic
These reactions are strikingly similar to anaphylaxis but due to a large number of stings reaching up to hundreds. Nevertheless, there is no allergic antibody present and the symptoms are triggered by the large amount of venom injected to the body.
Diagnosing fire ant allergy
In most cases, a diagnosis of fire ant allergy is done with the history of allergic reactions after receiving a fire ant sting along with a positive outcome in the allergy testing. Skin testing involves the use of the fire ant extract. Other alternatives to skin testing include blood tests such as RAST.