How serious are ant bites?
There are more than 10,000 types of ants in the world. The most common in the UK is the black ant, which doesn’t bite or sting, but other common types like red ants and wood ants can bite.
If you come into any contact with these insects, you may get bitten, particularly if you’re near an ant nest. But ant bites aren’t usually serious – you may feel a nip and get a pink or red mark on your skin. Sometimes, a bite can hurt a lot, swell up and become an itchy rash.
Ants don't just bite, some can also sting or inject you with a poison, called venom. If you’re bitten or stung by some ants – like harvester ants or fire ants – you may get more serious symptoms or an allergic reaction that needs emergency medical help.
What do ant bites look like?
If you’ve been bitten by an ant, you may get some symptoms, which usually go away after 24 hours. These may include:
- pain, redness, itching, swelling and hardening of the skin around the area where you were bitten
- a raised, itchy rash called hives (urticaria) – in some cases
Sometimes, your symptoms may involve a larger part of the skin around the bite and you may have more pain, swelling and itchiness, and develop blisters. These symptoms can take up to 10 days to go away. In rare cases, you may have an allergic reaction.
If you get stung by a fire ant, you’ll feel a burning pain as soon as it happens, and you may see a red spot where you were stung. A few hours later the spot may become an itchy, tender blister or lump with pus in it – it takes a few days or weeks for this to go away. It’s rare, but you may have an allergic reaction to a red ant’s sting or a severe allergic reaction called anaphylaxis, which needs emergency medical treatment.
The treatment for ant bites
The treatment you’ll need for an ant bite depends on your symptoms. The first thing you should do when you’re bitten or stung is remove the ant and wash the area around the bite.
You can try:
- putting a cold compress on the bite to help with the itchiness and to bring the swelling down
- antihistamine tablets or steroid creams or ointments (usually hydrocortisone) to reduce swelling and itching
- simple painkillers
Speak to a pharmacist about the best antihistamines, steroid creams and painkillers to use to treat a bite.
If you’ve had a serious reaction to an ant bite and are worried about your symptoms, you should get medical help. See the ‘When to see a doctor’ section below for guidance on the type of help you need to get and how quickly you should act.
If you see a doctor about an ant bite, they may give you:
- steroid tablets to calm down your body’s reaction to the bite
- an adrenaline injection if you’ve got anaphylaxis
Once you’ve recovered from the bite or sting, a doctor may refer you to an allergy specialist if you had a severe reaction. They may give you a self-injecting (or automatic injecting) adrenaline pen that you should carry around with you at all times, and use if you have a serious reaction to an insect bite in the future. They may also do a special skin test to check for other allergies you have.
In some cases, a specialist may offer you immunotherapy – a type of treatment to reduce your risk of reacting so badly to bites if you’re bitten again.
How to prevent ant bites
You can try to prevent getting bitten or stung by an ant by:
- staying away from ant nests – and calling a professional to remove them if they’re in your garden, for example
- not walking barefoot in areas that have ants
- wearing trousers and long-sleeved shirts when you’re outdoors
When to see a doctor about ant bites
You should call an ambulance or go to an emergency department immediately if you’ve been bitten or stung by an ant and:
- you’ve got a fever and feel very unwell or have any other signs of sepsis
- you think you have symptoms of anaphylaxis, which may include a rash, finding it hard to breathe, certain body parts swelling up and feeling very dizzy
See a doctor as soon as possible if:
- you were bitten near your eyes, or in your mouth or throat
- the ant bite is very painful
- the redness around the bite is spreading
- the swelling or rash is getting worse
Read more about when to see a doctor about other insect bites.
Your health questions answered
Do red ants bite?Answered by: Healthily's medical team
Some red ants, like fire ants, can bite or sting you. Fire ants can sting you many times in a short period of time, if you disturb their nest, for example. Their stings can be very painful and feel like your skin is burning, or on fire. This is due to the poison they inject into your skin. You’ll usually get a red, swollen mark on your skin that may be very itchy, or you may even get a pus-filled spot a few hours later. In rare cases, you may have an allergic reaction to their stings.
- there are over 10,000 different types of ants and some of them can bite or sting you
- the symptoms of an ant bite are usually mild and may include redness, swelling and itchiness
- an ant bite usually goes away within 24 hours, but medicines like antihistamines can help if it doesn’t go away and is very sore or itchy
- if you’re worried about any symptoms from an ant bite, see a doctor – and call an ambulance if you have any signs of sepsis or anaphylaxis