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Fire Ant Home Remedy: Witch Hazel

Fire ant venom makes feels like you have been burned. The subsequent red bumps can last for days. One reader shares his remedy for bites: witch hazel.

Q. First of all, we read your articles in our newspaper and enjoy the many home remedies and tips that you have offered your readers. I would like to add one about Fire Ants (FA=evil creatures).

I’m sure your readers have at one time or another been attacked by FA. I love doing yard work and gardening. I have stepped on these ants several times and been attack. One day they were all over my feet and legs. I ran to the hose and washed them off as fast as possible, ran into the house got a bottle of Witch Hazel and washed my feet and legs with it.  Afterwards I never had one red spot or itching. It was a miracle to me.

So, when I accidentally step on the creatures I run for the hose  and the witch hazel. It really, really works.

Thanks again for helping all of us with your articles each week.

A. Fire ants can indeed cause havoc. They have a coppery brown head and body and their abdomens are somewhat darker brown. You can normally recognize that fire ants are in the area because of their mounds or nests. Disturb a mound of fire ants and you will be in big trouble. They will swarm all over your legs and their stings are ferocious. The venom that is injected, Solenopsin, feels like you have been burned. The subsequent red bumps can last for days and the pain and itching can be intense. Scratching can cause infection.

Thank you for sharing you witch hazel remedy. Over the years we have received lots of other treatment suggestions from readers and visitors to this website:

“I live in Florida where there are lots of fire ants. I garden, which means I periodically get bitten.

“I have tried everything from Diprolene (a corticosteroid) to crushed walnut shells to immersion in a swimming pool without much success.

“I recently tried benzoyl peroxide (10 percent). I did it as a controlled experiment, in that I had four bites and treated two of them. The next day, the two treated bites were much smaller and less itchy than the controls.

“I applied the benzoyl peroxide within an hour of being bitten. I scraped off the top of the bite and rubbed the cream into the open bite and surrounding area.

“I am a physician and Army Reservist. My theory is that this drug penetrates the skin well, so the peroxide can get to the toxins, oxidizing and neutralizing them.” Jeffrey

“Vicks Vap-o-Rub applied immediately to Fire Ant stings soothes quickly and reduces the inflammation and itching the next day.” J.V.H.

“Organic apple cider vinegar works for me….I live in FL too and I usually just have to apply it once with a cotton ball and it takes away the itch for good.” C.M.

“We live in Texas and one day I got bit by a fire ant at my mother’s house. It was very painful. I looked for something to put on it and saw a tube of Prep H (yes…the hemorrhoid cream). I slapped it on the bite and the pain went away instantly. What a relief!

“I don’t know if it was the old Prep H or the new, but I would use it again if bitten.” P.G.

“Here is a home remedy for you. I got bitten by fire ants yesterday, and the bites swelled up and itched like crazy. I applied castor oil right away, and the itching stopped. The bites are just a little bit swollen today, and they don’t itch at all. Castor oil sure works on ant bites!”

“I live in San Antonio Texas. We have LOTS of things that sting and bite you! Ouch! I have had my encounters with Red wasp, Fire ants, and let’s not forget the one I hate most: the unwelcome scorpion.

“The Onion is my best friend. It works wonders on these stings. I don’t like these critters, but the onion will save you each and every time!

“I just love this web site! It truly saved me I always keep onions on hand just cuz you never know in Texas when you’ll get stung. I even carry a cut up onion in my purse, just because I am now always prepared.

“I live WAY, out in the country, so for me it is better to be always prepared! Thank you for this information! Most of all its NATURAL! If in doubt, just cut an onion put it on your sting, for 20 min. No pain, no swelling. I have used this many times; my neighbors and husband are now also believers!!!”


A true Texan! Deb

Then there was this amazing story from Eddie:

“I am 90 yrs old. About 3 years ago, I was standing next to my riding mower in my yard when fire ants ran up my legs and started biting. I wiped them off, but still ended up with about 6 or 7 bites and some itching.

“After a couple of days I noticed my arthritis was gone, I could write and use tools again. Wife thinks I’m crazy- but, hey, if it works!”

We also received these messages in a similar vein:

“On Wednesday afternoon I saw the doctor to request an appointment for an MRI as I was having such severe hip and leg pain. It was at times unbearable. They had to help me get into and out of chairs because I was in so much pain.

“Thursday I went outside to get the mail and saw a large weed I did not want in my yard. I tried to pull it up, but could not so I reached down to break it off. When I took hold of the weed, fire ants swarmed out and covered my right hand. I immediately knocked them off, but a few bit “me.

“I was sick and dizzy most of the day, but a miracle happened: my severe pain has gone.
No one will ever believe this. I don’t even believe it myself, as I had been in pain for over a year. I can’t take pain medication. Could fire ant stings be therapeutic?” Geranium L.

“I had a similar experience with a wasp sting, which ‘cured’ the moderate arthritis in the hand that was stung. The effect lasted for a few days.” Mikey

Then we heard from Kate, who offered a possible explanation:

“Yes, fire ant stings absolutely can be therapeutic. The venom you receive from a fire ant bite is related to honey bee venom (not all insect venoms are the same). There are folks in the south who rely on fire ant stings to get relief from conditions like arthritis. Bee venom therapy (BVT), one aspect of apitherapy along with honey, pollen, propolis, and royal jelly, has been around for about 7,000 years and has a huge accumulation of evidence for its efficacy.

“It is a hallmark treatment for arthritis, tendonitis, MS, and ALS, for example, and a quantity of other conditions too long to list. Honey bee venom is extremely analgesic and anti-inflammatory, more so than many prescription medicines. It is an extremely effective treatment plus very low cost without the horrendous side effects of prescription drugs. Very few people are allergic to the venom.

“Reactions like swelling and itching are not necessarily allergic reactions but a very good immune system response. Anaphylactic shock is a true allergic reaction and is rare, [but life threatening]. When a person feels ill or flu-like after receiving BVT, it is a healing crisis or Herxheimer reaction, indicating the immune system is now engaged in dealing with ones condition bringing it out of the chronic state where the body simply maintains the condition to a point where healing can begin.

“Apitherapy is common and well known in many other parts of the world providing people with great relief and cures from numerous conditions and diseases, but sadly not so much in the US. The American Apitherapy Society (www.apitherapy.org) is a teaching organization enlightening people in this country about the capabilities of apitherapy. There is a wealth of information on the website worth checking out and links to even more.”

We do NOT suggest anyone seek out fire ants to repeat Eddie’s accidental experiment. But we have heard about apitherapy for years. Some people really are allergic to honey bee stings. That’s why anyone who considers such treatment must be supervised by a health practitioner who 1) knows what he or she is doing and 2) is prepared to deal with an allergic reaction that could be dangerous.

Here is a link to learn more about apitherapy.

Share your own experience with fire ant bites and treatments below.

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About the Author
Joe Graedon is a pharmacologist who has dedicated his career to making drug information understandable to consumers. His best-selling book, The People’s Pharmacy, was published in 1976 and led to a syndicated newspaper column, syndicated public radio show and web site. In 2006, Long Island University awarded him an honorary doctorate as “one of the country's leading drug experts for the consumer.”.
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