How to Treat and Prevent Ant Bites

Insect Shield bug repellent clothing deters ants.

You’ll encounter ants everywhere you go. There are more than 12,000 ant species in the world, and for the most part, they are harmless. But there are plenty of biting and stinging ant species to be aware of so you can avoid the painful aftermath.  

What Types of Ants Bite?

All ants can bite, but, of the species that make an impact, fire ants are most well known. There are four species of fire ants in the United States. Two are considered native and two others, also known as red imported fire ants (or RIFAs), are an invasive species from South America. These imported fire ants are very aggressive and are found mostly throughout the southeastern part of the U.S. 

Insect Shield permethrin treated clothing combined with a topical repellent like Deet will repel some kinds of ants, however fire ants can be extremely aggressive when they are disturbed or when they are emerging from their nests. We at Insect Shield do not make any claims about using our products to avoid bites from fire ants.

Red fire ants not only bite, they sting numerous times, causing a painful burning sensation that also gave them their name. Other ant species sting, like harvester ants, carpenter ants, and acrobat ants. 

Symptoms of Ant Bites

If an ant bites, it can cause redness, rash, and small pustules. If these pustules become infected, they can cause scarring. Fire ants bite to hold on to the victim, so it’s possible to act quickly and brush off an ant before it stings.

Most of the time ant bites are easy to treat, but red fire ant stings can sometimes cause severe reactions because of the venom these ants secrete. 

Here are some symptoms to watch for and make you seek immediate treatment:

  • Dizziness
  • Nausea
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Chest pains

How to Treat Ant Bites

Ant bites and stings will usually go away in a couple of days and there are some simple things you can do at home to get some relief from the itching and burning sensation.

  • Cold compress
  • Hydrocortisone
  • Antihistamine
  • Antibiotic ointment

How to Prevent Ant Bites

The best way to prevent a painful run-in with biting and stinging ants is to avoid where they live.

Fire ant colonies are typically below the surface, with a mound forming over the nest, as are carpenter ant and harvester ant nests. You can also find fire ant nests in dark, moist locations like rotten logs, under sidewalks, or walls of buildings. Fire ants can cause the most problems when located in yards, school grounds, and parks. 

If you suspect a fire ant close to where you live, you should consult a pest control expert. 

Do Ants Carry Diseases?

Despite being annoying when you find them on countertops and food containers, ants typically are not known to transfer diseases to humans but it is possible. This is mostly a concern in developing countries. 

Ants can carry diseases like staphylococcus and streptococcus so it’s always good to be aware when lots of ants are around. Ants can also carry food-borne diseases such as salmonella and E. Coli., as they are constantly on the search for food inside homes and buildings. It’s possible for them to carry microorganisms to human food sources. Hospitals are on alert for pharaoh ants, which can spread salmonella and staphylococcus, and they can contaminate medical equipment. 

Where are Ants Dangerous?

If you’ve had ants in your home, you know it can be tough to get rid of them. Fortunately, most ant species can’t harm us, but there are ants that can cause serious problems. In rare cases, ants can spread food-borne illnesses or bacteria.

Red fire ants are most well known for their painful sting, which can sometimes cause an allergic reaction. These ants inject venom into their victims, and for some people, large numbers of bites can cause anaphylaxis. Those who have been bitten more than once by fire ants experience more severe reactions the next time they are bitten. It’s important to seek treatment if you have reactions like dizziness, shortness of breath, and severe swelling.

Can Ants Bite Through Clothes?

Unfortunately, the answer is yes, ants can bite through clothes. In fact, cotton actually attracts ants. Beyond their natural attraction to cloth, ants use it to make their nests. Depending on where you live, the ants in your vicinity might have an appetite for clothing. However, this does not apply to all ants.

When dealing with ants and fabric, it is important to remember that ants love the smell of fabric and will follow the scent just like they follow the scent of food. This is why it is important to be vigilant after hikes or long periods in nature and check your clothes for ants. 

Ants are also repelled by permethrin, so wearing permethrin-treated clothes is a good option to help avoid bites.

Can an Ant Bite Cause Swelling?

Yes, some ant bites can cause swelling. Whether an ant bite results in swelling depends on the type of ant and whether the person who was bitten is allergic. The most common instance of swelling after an ant bite is known as a local reaction. These types of reactions are characterized by itchiness, redness, and swelling.

If the bite results in the swelling of a larger area of skin, this could be a large local reaction. These types of reactions usually feature swelling and redness that extends approximately 10 cm from the site of the bite, along with more severe symptoms that can persist for up to 10 days.

If the person is allergic to ants, seek immediate medical attention.