The People's Perspective on Medicine

Home Remedies to Ease Pain of Fire Ant Stings

Making a paste of meat tenderizer and water to apply to the sore red spot can ease the pain of fire ant stings quickly. Other remedies also help.
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An insect sting can hurt like the dickens, whether the culprit is a bee, a yellow jacket or another type of wasp. Then there are fire ants. They are named for the burning sensation they cause when they sting. Any sting could trigger a dangerous reaction, and needs attention. But if the reaction is mainly pain, what do you do for fire ant stings?

Meat Tenderizer for Fire Ant Stings:

Q. My young daughter was stung on the hand by fire ants. Her hand began to swell. We called her pediatrician and he got us into his office right away to see the reaction for himself. It wasn’t affecting her respiration, so it was not an emergency.

He said:

“What is an insect sting but a protein byproduct? Make a paste of Adolph’s meat tenderizer and water and apply it to the sting. It tenderizes meat because it breaks down protein. Get the unseasoned kind. She’ll be fine.”

Since then, we have always kept some Adolph’s in the house and in our camping gear. We use it on bee stings as well as fire ant stings.

A. Meat tenderizers contain either bromelain (derived from pineapple) or papain (derived from papaya). Either enzyme breaks down protein.

We first stumbled upon using meat tenderizer against insect stings in JAMA (April 24, 1972). The author recommended mixing a quarter-teaspoonful or so with a teaspoonful of water.

Other Home Remedies for Fire Ant Stings:

Other readers have reported success treating fire ant stings with vinegar as well as meat tenderizer. Home remedies including witch hazel, dilute ammonia, castor oil or benzoyl peroxide (found in over-the-counter acne remedies) have been used against stings from other types of insects as well as fire ants.

Some people claim that putting a fresh-cut piece of onion on the fire ant sting also works well. This can be an effective remedy to soothe the pain of a wasp or yellow jacket sting.

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    About the Author
    Terry Graedon, PhD, is a medical anthropologist and co-host of The People’s Pharmacy radio show, co-author of The People’s Pharmacy syndicated newspaper columns and numerous books, and co-founder of The People’s Pharmacy website. Terry taught in the Duke University School of Nursing and was an adjunct assistant professor in the Department of Anthropology. She is a Fellow of the Society of Applied Anthropology. Terry is one of the country's leading authorities on the science behind folk remedies. .
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    I never knew there were so many ways to ease the sting of red ant bites. I am saving them all. I was told by my pharmacist t use Tee Tree Oil and take Benadryl.
    Also used Witch Hazel which stopped the itching and was very soothing.

    I read all the comments/home remedies above, and no one mentioned toothpaste. My mom was bitten/stung by a bug of some kind, and the itch/sting/pain was incredible. I suggested applying toothpaste. The relief was immediate. She had been suffering for 24 hours prior to applying the toothpaste and was grateful for the relief!

    Fire ant bites…..hands down……antiseptic mouthwash. Apply as quickly as possible after being bit, usually just pouring right from the bottle. We get the inexpensive kind from the local dollar store and keep several bottles in different locations as we are in the south and have quite a lively population of mounds. If you can apply is right away, there is no burning, the sting goes away and the white pustule usually does not form.

    A common weed in my yard is the best medicine I have found for fire ant bites, bee stings and even for removing small splinters. It is plantain and can be picked and used immediately while you are still in the yard. Hopefully you have some in a portion of your yard where you do not use pesticides.

    Just pick a clean leaf, masticate it with your teeth and stick it on the bite or sting. PIt provides a strong drawing out action that will minimize or even stop the effects of the bite or sting. For splinters leave on overnight and cover with gauze. You can also check the internet for directions on how to make a plantain salve. I always keep some In my medicine cabinet.

    Fire ants and me don’t mix. No home remedy has helped. If I get bit by a fire ants it’s off to the emergency room. Happened several times now.

    Meat tenderizer is also good for jelly fish stings if you get one while swimming in the ocean.

    My favorite go to remedy for insect stings is to puncture a liquid gel capsule of vitamin E, mixed tocopherols, and apply to the sting. It needs to be done as soon as possible after the sting. Have gotten great results from this.

    Back in 1981, I got stung 118 times by honey bees. I was working 2 hives over, for a lady. These stings were all under my right arm, just below the arm pit, where the glove came to an end. The wife cut an onion in half, used a towel to hold it in place. After 30 or so minutes, you could not tell I had been stung. I was a Bee Keeper at that time and still am.

    I use Vics VapoRub. Works like magic to stop the stinging and the pustules that form!

    At the Outer Banks Medical Center the treatment of formic acid envenomations from Portuguese Man-O-War which might number in the hundreds on multiple patients consisted of: removing stingers, Meat tenderizer, very hot wet blankets kept for the occasion. Denaturing the heat labile hyaluronidase enzymes which allow the venom to spread under the skin is the goal and really helps all the various envenomations I have confronted for these 35 years in hundreds of patients and dozens of family and friends. The key is to do this early before the venom spreads.

    I have an uncle in the south and he had me use a roll on deodorant where I had been stung.
    It worked no sting.

    Years ago I read about putting mustard on fire ant bite- it worked amazing

    There are little zappers made from a spark plug that neutralizes stings, snake venom, and the like. THe little electric charge scrambles the poisonous protein. Ranchers ue big one for cattle that have been snakebit.

    Lavender essential oil works very well for me – straight from the bottle, just a dab directly on the sting using a q-tip.

    I walked into the lawn wearing flip-flops and was promptly swarmed with fire ants. I brushed them off with a towel, then ran inside to the the shower. I used the hottest water I could tolerate and let it run over my feet about 5 minutes. it really helped keep the itching down. I still ended up with a few ugly blisters (the bumps turn white on top).

    I didn’t get to read this until Tuesday, but it was the publish date (3 Sept) that I got bit/stung! I had my own Witch Hazel on hand AND IT BARELY GAVE ANY relief … I was suprised. Next time I will try everything listed. I will probably have to endure a few days of itching; will try the W.H. again.
    Most importantly…. I love your program. Always seems to be “right on time” for friends, family or myself.

    While watching my daughters’ tennis match last year, I unwittingly sat with my bare feet (I was wearing flip flops) in a fire anthill. By the time I felt the stings, both my feet were covered with them. It was absolutely awful — the worst sting I have ever had (and being from North Carolina, I’ve had my fair share of all variety of stings).

    Nothing helped except one thing: HOT HOT WATER. I ran water from the tap as hot as I could stand it with my fingers and then dipped my feet under the faucet for a second at a time (which was about all I could stand) for about 30 seconds total. The relief was miraculous. I had to repeat the procedure a couple of times over the next few days (because the stings were so severe) but this enabled me to forget about them for many hours at a time.

    My mom always used baking soda paste.

    We have had the great success using a dab of tea tree oil on all types of bug bites, especially fire ants and mosquitos. It stops the itch almost immediately. Reapply as needed.

    Ammonia is Mother Nature’s way of taking out the sting; I used it on my ear years ago and worked fine. When I got to the E.R. doc was impressed I’d known about it. I was traveling in an r.v. so kept it handy with other cleaning supplies.

    Upon waking up I had a bad sting and a white raised “pimple” on my elbow. The surrounding area was inflamed and red and swelling. I dashed to the kitchen and cut off a piece of my faithful aloe plant and rubbed the gooey juice all over my elbow.

    It took a few minutes to calm down, did a second application and let it dry. Repeated again in a few hours. By the next day, all the swelling was gone, along with the raised bump. Gave another application just for good measure. Never found the bug. Love my aloe plant.

    I have been using Adolph’s for 40+ years to get rid of mosquito bites. Apply the paste as soon as possible after the bite, rub in and let dry. Poof! Gone. When we moved to Texas, I found out about fire ants. The Adolph’s will prevent the blister from forming but for the burning itch, I touch it with a hot wet cloth.

    I never have to do it more than twice and it’s gone. We never fail to take Adolph’s with us on a picnic and my husband carries it in his golf cart. I don’t remember where I learned about this but it’s worked well for me.

    Recently while walking to the tennis courts, I apparently invaded the territory of a biting deer-fly. I couldn’t fend him off completely so he was able to bite me in 2 places: my arm and my lower lip/chin. I could feel the “venom” doing its thing the whole time I was playing. When I got home, I could see in the mirror that where the fly had stung my lower lip was turning pale.

    I made a paste of some meat tenderizer powder w/ water and applied it to the pale area and left it there about 20 mins to hopefully soak in and inactivate the venom protein. When I rinsed it off, the pale area was normally colored and there was no further effect whatsoever in that area from the sting. As a control, the bite on my arm continued to develop into a raised itchy patch which lasted a few days. I now always pack meat tenderizer powder anytime I’m going into the woods.

    My mother-in-law developed an allergy to ants to the point that when she was bitten while gardening, when she went in to shower, she passed out cold.

    This was in the 1970s and her doctor “prescribed” that she carry a cigarette and a bottle of water with which to make a poultice if she was ever bitten again.

    I remember the same “medicine” being used on a boy I went to school with when he was stung by some flying creature while we were outside.

    Regarding Fire Ant bite remedies, I found Anbesol that is used for tooth aches to be the most amazing relief of all. I am extremely sensitive to fire ants. After 1 week of itching and pain I thought what the heck. It is 2 am and I can’t take another night of sleeplessness.

    I dabbed the Anbesol on the bites and the relief was almost immediate and..the bites disappeared in a couple of days. I don’t know what the ingredient is that made it work so well but it was my go to cure when I lived in FL.

    The best thing for fire ant bites is Tea tree oil. Every farmer I know has a bottle with him. I have used for years. Takes away the sting and heals the wound

    When I was a child my grandmother told us about this remedy. Mix a small amount of water with regular table salt to make a paste and apply to the sting. It will give immediate relief.

    I have used Vicks vaporub successfully in the past and it even seems to lesson the pain of the sting the next time it happens.

    I have used full strength bleach for years. It seems to neatrualize the poison.

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