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Ant Bites

Most ants that live in the UK don’t bite, but some do and they can cause itchiness, swelling and pain. 

  1. Red ants are the most common species that bite
  2. Can rarely cause an allergic reaction
  3. Will not require treatment in most cases

It’s rare that an ant bite will cause any significant symptoms, but if you have been bitten and are experiencing irritation, swelling or are otherwise concerned, our doctors are available to speak to online. Click below to book an appointment at a time that suits you. 

Ant Bites
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Description

Ant bites are rare, as they do not feed on humans. They only bite when protecting their nest, or in self-defence. Different species of ants may either sting or bite. Fire ants can do both, and may bite the skin whilst injecting venom with their stinger. 

Most species in the UK will not bite, and even if they do, it will not cause a reaction. The red ant is one of the few that may. It's normal to have a small red lump following a red ant bite, which can develop into a blister over the course of a day.

Any work which requires often being outdoors, particularly in forests, can mean you’re more likely to be bitten by an ant. Increased skin exposure and doing a lot of outdoor activities also makes the likelihood of being bitten greater. However, it should be stressed that even in this environment, being bitten by an ant is very unlikely. 

It's hard to establish the prevalence of ant bites, as the only figures that are available in the UK are for insect bites in general. Even so, these figures are very low, because in most cases people will not contact a GP or be hospitalised for an insect bite.

The complications of ant bites are less serious than other insect bites and stings. An allergic reaction to the venom of a red ant may lead to some local swelling and itching. It’s very unlikely that an ant bite will cause a serious, anaphylactic reaction, but other types of bites and stings can. The symptoms are swelling of the throat, dizziness, and breathing difficulties. 

People who are concerned about itching or swelling following a bite can speak to a doctor online using our secure video consultation service. Once you have made an appointment, one of our prescribers will be able to advise you on how to manage symptoms where necessary, and what to do in the event that you need further treatment. Book a slot at a time that suits you best.

Page last reviewed:  29/04/2020
Diagnosis and treatment

How are ant bites identified?

Different types of bites can usually be identified by a doctor observing the site of the bite. If there has been a reaction to the bite, there may be pain, redness or swelling around the affected area.

Will I need tests?

No. In most cases you will not be required to have tests, as ant bites can easily be diagnosed from a basic examination. Tests for allergies to insect bites are available, however.

What will a doctor normally advise?

If you are sensitive to bites, or have been bitten by a large number of ants, there may be a swelling and some itchiness. A doctor may advise you to clean any of the skin that could have been exposed. 

Although they are not native to the UK, there have been reports of an influx of fire ants in the last few years. A sting from a fire ant will produce more of a reaction than other ants that are native to the UK. It may cause significant swelling that will require an ice pack, and perhaps antihistamine treatment if the sting is particularly large. 

Having been bitten, if you notice symptoms such as hives, nausea, trouble breathing and diarrhea, this may be an indication of a systemic allergic reaction that requires immediate medical attention. If you have been prescribed an adrenaline injector, you should use it right away.

What treatments are there for ant bites?

In most cases, you will not need any treatment for an ant bite, as the potential itchiness and swelling typically dissipates in a short space of time. If the swelling is severe however, you can apply an ice pack to reduce it, and take antihistamines. More serious reactions to ant bites may require emergency treatment using an adrenaline injector before being admitted to hospital, but this is extremely unlikely. Unlike wasp stings, there is not thought to be an association between ant bites and anaphylaxis.

Page last reviewed:  29/04/2020
Questions and Answers

How is an ant bite treated?

Usually, they don’t require treatment. Irritation and swelling related to an ant bite is likely to disappear on its own. If someone who is particularly sensitive to bites develops a local reaction, over the counter or prescription antihistamines may help.

Other types of bites and stings can cause a more serious allergic reaction called anaphylaxis. These will need to be treated with an adrenaline injector pen prior to emergency admission to hospital.

What treatments are there?

It’s rare that treatment is needed for an ant bite. Antihistamines are available from pharmacies, although some types may require a prescription. These work by reducing the production of a chemical in the body called histamine, which is responsible for redness and inflammation.

Can I consult a doctor about ant bites online?

Ant bites do not normally require treatment, but if you have an unspecified bite or are experiencing a local reaction, and would like to speak to a doctor online, our video consultation enables you to do so easily and securely. Our prescribers will be able to discuss symptoms with you, and advise on how to manage these. 

In the rare event that treatment may be required, they can also provide prescriptions.

Page last reviewed:  29/04/2020

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