Red imported fire ants are native to South America but have spread to many countries throughout the world, including the United States. These ants are infamous for the painful blisters that their stings leave behind, but for people who are allergic to the venom, the sting is even more serious. Here are five things you need to know about fire ant venom allergies.
Where are fire ants found?
Fire ants have a large range in the United States. They were accidentally brought to Mobile, Ala., back in the 1930s, and since then they have expanded their range to include much of the southern United States. They can now be found from California to Florida. Currently, they can be found as far north as southern New Jersey, but their range is still expanding. If fire ants aren't already in your state, they could be there soon, and this is a big problem for people who are allergic to the ant's venom.
What are the signs of a fire ant venom allergy?
For non-allergic people, fire ant stings lead to painful, burning blisters. If you're allergic to the venom, you will experience additional unpleasant symptoms. Symptoms that could indicate an allergy include hives, a tight feeling in your chest, difficulty breathing, cramps in your abdomen, nausea, or vomiting.
Some people also experience a drop in blood pressure which can lead to dizziness or even make you pass out. Cardiac arrest is another possible symptom for allergic people. If you experience anything more serious than a painful blister after a fire ant sting, you may be allergic and need to seek treatment immediately.
How are fire ant allergies diagnosed?
Fire ant allergies can be diagnosed in two ways. The first method is a skin prick test. During this test, your doctor will inject a small amount of fire ant venom into the skin or your arm or back. If a raised bump develops at the injection site, you may be diagnosed with the allergy.
The other possible test is a blood test. A sample of your blood will be drawn and then sent to a laboratory for analysis. The laboratory will look for antibodies to fire ant venom in your blood. If these antibodies are found, you may be diagnosed with the allergy.
For more information on allergy testing, visit a site like http://www.oakbrookallergists.com.
Can fire ant allergies be treated?
Fire ant allergies can be treated with immunotherapy. Immunotherapy, also called allergy shots, can reduce your reaction to the ant's venom. A solution of saline and a small amount of fire ant venom will be injected under your skin about once a week. Each week, the solution will contain slightly more fire ant venom. These weekly shots will continue for between four and six months, and after that, you'll only need to get a shot once every four weeks. You'll continue getting these monthly shots for four to six months. The goal of this treatment is to slowly build up your tolerance to the allergen.
Since this treatment involves a lot of needles and a lot of doctor's appointments, it's not for everyone. If you're scared of needles or have a very busy schedule, you may have trouble sticking to it. Only 35 percent of people who start immunotherapy continue to get the shots after one year, but if you can commit to the treatment, you will have milder reactions to fire ant stings and won't have to worry about
How common is this allergy?
Fire ant venom allergies are fairly common. Between 2 and 3 percent of the general population is allergic to the venom. Since about half of people living in fire ant endemic areas are stung every year, this represents a huge public health problem.
If you think you're allergic to fire ant venom, talk to your doctor right away.