More people have died from allergic reactions to fire ants in Texas than anywhere in the U.S.
Imported fire ants are an aggressive species of ant that frequently sting Texans. Fire ants are the most common cause of allergic reactions to stinging insects in Texas. There are three types of reactions to fire ant stings.
Besides the acute burning seen immediately after the sting as mentioned above, most people will develop what appears to be a "pustule" about 24 hrs after the sting. The normal reaction to a fire ant sting is the development of a small sterile pustule; a small blister filled with white fluid. Actually, there is no infection in these "pustules". However, scratching and breaking this pustule should be avoided since it may lead to infection.
The IFA venom kills bacteria and skin cells. What looks like pus is really dead skin cells. IFA stings do get infected. This occurs when the so-called "pustule" is opened. Therefore, IFA stings should be left alone to heal on their own, which they will do in about a week. If the fire sting is opened, the site should be kept clean with soap and water. If you note increasing redness, pain, swelling or warmth around an opened IFA sting, you should immediately see your doctor.
Large Local Reactions
Swelling that spreads from the site of the sting occurs in 20-50% of fire ant stings. Large local reactions should be treated with local application of ice. Antihistamines and prescription corticosteroids may be required for more severe local swelling. Most people who develop large local reactions to fire ant stings are not at great risk for developing more serious allergic reactions to subsequent fire ant stings.
Systemic Allergic Reactions
Severe allergic reactions (anaphylaxis) occur in 1-6% of people stung by fire ants and occasionally these reactions may be fatal. The symptoms of a systemic reaction to fire ants include:
- - Hives/itchy rash
- - Swelling of the face, lips, throat
- - Difficulty breathing
- - Light-headedness/fainting
Individuals who have experienced some or all of the above symptoms of a systemic allergic reaction immediately after a fire ant sting are at risk for a potentially fatal reaction to subsequent stings and should be evaluated with skin testing to fire ants by a board-certified Allergist.
People who have had systemic allergic reactions to fire ant stings can be effectively treated with allergy shots for fire ants that markedly reduce their risk of another allergic reaction to a subsequent sting.
The Texas Allergy, Asthma and Immunology Society (TAAIS) is a group of more than 220 board-certified Allergists/Immunologists in Texas.
An Allergist/Immunologist is a physician, usually an Internist or Pediatrician, who has had special training and experience in the field of Allergy and Immunology and who is considered to be an expert in the diagnosis and management of immune system disorders such as asthma, allergic rhinitis (hay fever), eczema, urticaria (hives), drug reactions, food allergies, immune deficiencies, and all general aspects of anaphylaxis.
A Board Certified Allergist/Immunologist is a physician who has passed the certifying examination of the American Board of Allergy and Immunology. A list of Board Certified Allergists can be found here. Those with “ABAI” under Board Certification are Board Certified Allergists/Immunologist.