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Vinegar Stars as Surprising Antidote to Sting of Fire Ants

One reader shares a favorite home remedy (white vinegar) to deal with the uncomfortable sting from the bites of fire ants.

Fire ants are an invasive species in the southern United States, gradually making their way northward. These aggressive ants live in colonies and they have a ferocious and painful sting that feels like a burn. Is there any way to ease the pain?

Easing the Pain of Fire Ant Stings:

Q. My home town is in extreme drought and about the only thing growing now are weeds. They were getting pretty tall, so I decided to mow. When I stopped to pick up a limb, I felt hot stinging and looked at my hand to see fire ants on it.

I brushed them off and went inside to find something to treat them. The stings make me itch and burn; they create white pimple-like pustules and red swollen areas.

I reached for the spray bottle of vinegar I keep in my kitchen for cleaning and disinfecting. I sprayed my hand and left the spray on the skin. In a few seconds the burning stopped, then the itching. I had a little redness but pustules never did form.

This is the fastest and best remedy I’ve ever found for fire ant bites.

Beware Allergic Reactions to Fire Ants:

A. Thanks for sharing your success. We didn’t know that vinegar (acetic acid) could overcome the venom of fire ants (Solenopsis invicta). A recent study showed that crazy ants (Nylanderia fulva) use formic acid they produce themselves to detoxify fire ant venom when the two groups fight each other (Science, Feb. 28, 2014).

Other readers report success against fire ant bites with topical witch hazel, the OTC acne drug benzoyl peroxide, Vicks VapoRub, castor oil or a cut onion. Keep in mind that some people react to fire ant stings with a severe allergic reaction that can even proceed to anaphylaxis. Those individuals need immediate emergency attention if they are stung.

Revised 8-8-16

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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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