a close up of a fire ant, fire ant stings

Why would anyone want to be stung by fire ants? The pain can be intense. That’s because these critters are aggressive. First they bite you and then they sting you by injecting a toxin (solenopsin) into your skin. It contains the chemical piperidine that causes much of the mischief. Some liken the feeling to being burned, hence the name fire ants.

These nasty little beasties (Solenopsis invicta) first showed up in Alabama in the 1930s after hitching a ride from South America. Florida has a large fire ant population but fire ants can also be found throughout the southeast and into Texas, Oklahoma and New Mexico. There are even reports of people being stung by fire ants in parts of California.

When someone is stung by fire ants the pain, swelling and itching can last for hours. Resulting blisters can persist for as long as a week or more. People who are allergic to these stings need immediate emergency treatment as anaphylactic shock can result.

Some People Like the Results of Being Stung by Fire Ants:

Q. I was looking for information about fire ant stings and arthritis because this just happened to me. I live in Florida and two days ago I got about 30 fire ant stings on my foot.

I used baking soda and vinegar on the foot, so the pain and itching wasn’t too bad. My toes became swollen and tight to the point that I couldn’t bend them, but the swelling went away overnight.

In the past, including very recently, I have had incredible pain from arthritis in this foot. Today, my foot feels incredible! I have no pain at all and that is a miracle for me! I just can’t believe the range of motion I have. All of the joints in the foot are so loose and flexible.

I’m 50 and my foot feels like it did when I was in my 20s. As crazy as this may sound, I’m getting ready to go out and put my hands on one of the several fire ant nests in my yard. If the joints in my hands feel as good as my foot does, I will be a very happy man! I am living proof that this does work!

A. We would discourage you from sticking your hand in a fire ant nest on the grounds that bites can become infected. Multiple stings sometimes trigger seizures, heart failure or life-threatening allergic reactions.

Apitherapy for Arthritis:

That said, there is an unusual approach to treating arthritis (and some auto-immune conditions) called apitherapy or bee venom therapy. Controlled bee stings may provide significant pain relief for stiff, sore joints or even pain that lingers after shingles.

We interviewed experts on apitherapy and acupuncture for our radio show earlier this year. You can listen to the one-hour episode of Show 1032: How to Use Products of the Bee Hive for Healing at this link.

People Stung By Fire Ants:

Christina in California offers this account:

“I have been in chronic pain from arthritis for 4 years. I got bitten by a fire ant and all of a sudden my pain was much better. This may be my imagination but I am grateful for any relief from this pain.”

John in Florida shares an interesting “experiment”:

“I am in my 30s and in declining health, I moved to Florida from a state that’s too cold for fire ants.

“I have chronic nerve pain that is never ending and that runs down both legs. I was out walking (it helps me to spasm less) and I got bit for the very first time by a fire ant on my big toe, and it hurt. But ten minutes later the pain and spasm in the leg I was bitten on stopped, but not in the the leg that wasn’t bitten.”

Bill also from Florida also experienced relief:

“I have had severe pain in two fingers on my left hand for several years. I have to agree with all the posts on this website that came before me.

“I got into a fire ant nest in a bale of hay while feeding my horses four days ago. I received about 20 stings before I got them off of me. The next morning the pain in my left hand was gone, and so far four days later I still have no pain in that hand. I really hope there are some serious research studies being conducted somewhere on the pain relief properties in fire ant venom.”

We doubt that researchers will take up this call to action, but it would be wonderful if someone could test this idea scientifically. Until then we will continue to collect anecdotes. You can read more at this link: Fire Ant Bite Banished Hip Pain.

Again, we would caution people NOT to allow themselves to be intentionally stung by fire ants! That could result in a life-threatening allergic reaction.

Home Remedies for Fire Ant Bites:

We have received many suggestions for treating the pain and inflammation of fire ant bites. They include topical application of vinegar, witch hazel, OTC acne medicine (benzoyl peroxide), castor oil, Vicks VapoRub or a cut onion. This link will provide stories about some of these approaches.

Other Ways to Ease Arthritis pain:

If you are interested in less painful and scary treatments for joint pain and arthritis you will find our book, The People’s Pharmacy Quick & Handy Home Remedies appealing. The remedies we share do not involve being stung by fire ants!

Revised: June 8, 2018

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  1. Sue

    I had Juvenile arthritis as a kid living in China. My parents took me to all kinds of hospitals, nothing worked. I was in constant pain in almost all my joints for about 3 years, especially when it’s cold. The second year in college (I entered medical school, hoping that I could find somebody/knowledge to help me there, but no luck), my parents heard that fire ants and honey might help.

    So, they bought bags of fire ants (they sell these as herbal medicine in China back then), and mixed them up with honey. I ate a spoonful every single day for about 6 months. And my arthritis started to get better, I finished all the fire ants they bought (in about 1 year), and my arthritis went into remission.

    I don’t want to say that the fire ants cured me, because some Juvenile arthritis are self-limiting, and maybe it was just a coincidence. But it is curious to me if the fire ants had something to do with it after all. I guess I will never find an answer to that. But I want to tell my story, maybe someone out there still suffering could potentially benefit from this information.

    I do want to point out that the fire ants I ate were prepared by a professional traditional Chinese herbal pharmaceutical company. At least they claim that it was safe to eat (I guess it’s clean of bacteria and stuff, and it will be like eating bugs for protein in some cultures).

    I also want to say that for a kid with arthritis, emotional stress is very high, and often overlooked. I had no guidance or consultations back then, and suffered a lot emotionally. My parents are very loving parents, but they were poor and undereducated, so couldn’t do much on that part. I did a lot of thinking about meaning of life at a young age. The illness shaped my view of life significantly.

    I considered suicide at some point. Eventually, I overcame it and decided that instead of complaining and feeling unfair the rest of my life, I’d rather live with the disease and pain as happy as I can. I am extremely grateful that it went into remission, maybe it’s the fire ants, maybe it is the universe, who knows.

    After an experience like that, every day is a gift. Now I’m a wife, a mother of two, and a physician. I want to tell anybody that reading this, and maybe suffering from the same disease, life can go on, we just need to be passionate, be grateful, have no envy, no fear.

  2. Karin
    Tecopa, CA

    Living in the remote desert near Death Valley, rattlesnakes are quite common in the summer and every so often, someone’s dog will get bitten. One summer it was my badly arthritic shepard; I saw the actual incident as he got bit on the nose. He swelled up quite badly but fortunately the snake did not deliver enough venom to kill him (he’s 100-lbs). As the swelling disappeared, so did his arthritis! The effect lasted 2 years. Some time later I encountered a deeply experienced homeopath who assured me that, rather than sidewinder rattlesnake venom being a cure for arthritis, what we had encountered was the homeopathic principle of “like chases like.”

  3. Sue
    Pooler, Ga

    I live in south Georgia and sometimes I get a bite or more even though there is no obvious mound. I use hydrocortisone cream and it heals it pretty quickly.

  4. Jennifer
    Raleigh, NC

    We had an ant colony by our driveway when we lived in Charlotte, NC, and I was bitten by a few ants. They were small and it felt like being stuck with needles to me. Can’t say they were fire ants, but it definitely helped my plantar fasciitis–made all pain dissappear for about a year. I work all day on my feet, about 10-12 hours a day, and the plantar fasciitis does come and go, but if I could find another ant hill and knew they were fire ants, I would probably try again. It was only two or three ants, very amazing. I am a firm believer in this website and home remedies.

  5. Mark

    When I was very young, I got stung by hornets and wasps every so often, while working in deep woods during Summer in the Pacific NW. After a little while, the swellings would disappear, and the pain would go away without any kind of treatment. Now that I am old – I have become sensitized to the stings, and have to use antihistamines, or I will swell up and who knows what else. One thing that always makes me feel better, is to smash the stinging insects.

  6. AML

    I think it’s sort of like the man who had a headache and whacked his finger with a hammer and then his headache was much better.

  7. GB

    I’m interested in this, keep us posted.

  8. floridananny

    Please notify me of follow-up comments. Thank you.

  9. ladyliza

    Here is a list of herbs that have helped me immensely with my hip arthritis. I am not longer crippled with pain. I have No pain at all.
    I started with niacinamide at my doctors suggestion. Then I started with 2200 mg of turmeric divided doses daily and increased it up to around 4000mg/day. But since I don’t like the taste, even in the pills, I searched for something different.
    Then I tried SAM-e, and that killed most of the pain. I started with 200mg am and 200 evenings. If you find it too expensive, just buy it at vitacost.com. IT is very reasonable there.
    I started serrapeptase, at 5am every morning for a different ailment, but this eliminates most of the inflammation in your body. The only downside is having to wake up at 5am to take it, since your stomach and upper intestines have to be empty. My depression is now gone as I am no longer in any pain. I am 65.

  10. art

    The swelling was probably aided by the use of vinegar on the foot. Raw, Unfiltered ACV (Apply Cider Vinegar) is a wonderful anti-infective/anti-inflammatory agent!

  11. az

    I have heard that bee stings help. I have not tried it. However, if I get ant or spider bite I put Honey on a bandaid and leave it on. It helps with pain and inflammation!! I have also found as for me when I got acne I did the same thing.. leaving it on overnight. It reduces the inflammation and redness.

  12. dvd

    After posting my prior data, I had an additional thought. My autoimmune disease has been in remission this whole year also. I am 69 years old, and I do not now take any prescription drugs. I am in remission for the first time in twenty-two years. It is interesting to note that no more MRSA lesions happened at the same time as the illness went into remission. Evidently the immune suppressing drug (imuran) reduced by body’s ability to fight offs MRSA. It is great to be drug free after all those years of prednisone and/or imuran.

  13. dvd

    I had a single fire ant sting on my lower back in December, 2008, and the result was a huge abscess that required three emergency room visits and antibiotics to heal. Due to a genetic problem I developed an autoimmune disease and was on immune suppressants at that time. The first abscess was MRSA, and I had MRSA infections sixteen times in the following years that required treatment. This year I am MRSA free. My advise is stay away from fire ants, and if you do get a bite, treat it vigorously with antibiotic creams, and see a physician if you get an abscess. MRSA is a scary problem………..

  14. don

    Interested in the results of the baking soda and vinegar for arthritis

    • margaret

      The gentleman was stating that he felt relief from his arthritis after being bit by fire ants. He is wondering if their venom was the reason for the this.
      He used the baking soda and vinegar to help with the burning and itching the bites cause to the skin. They were not what helped his arthritis.

  15. DS

    I would like to hear what happens with JeanLynn.

  16. Dallee

    Especially for arthritic hands, first try epsom salt in very warm water with some mild stretching for at least 15 minutes — feet, too, but the stretching is a bit harder.
    Keep doing it every day or every other day.
    Often, that does help and it is pretty risk free.

  17. Jim

    I find it disturbing that people want to combine vinegar and baking soda as a treatment for anything. This combination is what I use to clear the drains in my home since it is highly caustic. I’ve seen posts on here in the past about combining them to treat heartburn and indigestion, and now to treat topical issues. Am I missing something? Love this newsletter and learn a great deal from it. Thanks.

    • margaret

      Mixing vinegar and baking soda makes water. Not caustic.
      It’s the pressure of the from the build up of bubbles, gas, and liquid that helps clear a drain (if the top has been stoppered tightly). The acid of the vinegar may help a bit, until the chemical reaction with the baking soda turns it to water.
      It appears these two cleaners should be used separately to be at their best.

      “generally when an acid and a base are mixed together, the result is that the acid and base neutralize each other to form water and a small amount of salt.

      In the case of vinegar and baking soda, the acetic acid and sodium hydrogen carbonate combine to form water, carbon dioxide (which is responsible for all the bubbles), and sodium acetate.”
      From this site: http://www.quickanddirtytips.com/education/science/vinegar-baking-soda-the-ultimate-cleanser?page=1

  18. mary

    Please forward me results of JeanLynn’s experiment. Thank you

  19. JeanLynn

    I am wondering if it could have been the baking soda and vinegar that made your arthritis better, not the ant stings? I am going to put baking soda and vinegar on my right hand tonite and see what happens. I have mild to moderate arthritis pain and swelling in my right hand. Report to follow soon.

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