Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Fire Ant Allergy and ER Visits

I thought we had been doing pretty good by avoiding the ER since December.  Unfortunately we had another quick trip to our local ER in June.  Little Punkin was swimming at our neighborhood pool with my husband.  She was walking around the edge and playing in the lounge chairs.  There were quite a few ants nearby due to all the sticky spills around the outside of the pool from all the recent pool parties.

As they were leaving the pool my husband noticed that she was very itchy and suddenly became very cranky.  He thought she was just tired and hot.  He brought her home and I placed her in a warm bath while I rinsed out her swimsuit.  When I pulled her out of the tub to wrap her in a towel, I noticed that she was very red.  Within seconds she was covered in a bright red, itchy rash.  She began to shriek as I tried to dry her off.  The red rash turned into huge red, raised hives that were welts covering her entire body.  I noticed that one foot was especially swollen and red.

We gave her some Benadryl and waited for the swelling to go down.  It was getting worse every second and her screaming was starting to scare me.  She was thrashing around and trying to scratch her skin off.  I quickly put on her diaper and tried to calm her as we waited.  Then she got scary quiet as the redness kept spreading up her torso and onto her face and neck.  That's when I began to panic.

I told my husband that I thought I should take her somewhere to monitor her oxygen levels and heart rate.  He agreed so he dressed her while I grabbed the diaper bag and loaded the car.  Soon we were on our way to the local ER which is just across the highway from our house.  By the time I walked in the doors, Punkin was a mass of raised welts and the color of ripe strawberries.  The nurse immediately took us back to a room, took of her jammies, and started checking her vital signs.

Thankfully, Punkin was stable and her breathing was not affected.  We stayed in the ER for monitoring for a little while.  During this time her rash began to get better and the swelling went down.  We were sent home with instructions to give her Benadryl for the next several days and watch the rash carefully.

While we're not sure what caused this severe reactions, we do believe that she was bitten by a fire ant at the pool and that caused her to become itchy and swollen.  We'll be following up with our immunologist to see if we can determine the cause of her reaction and see if there are other insects, foods, or environmental allergens that are triggers.

What is an allergy to fire ants?

It does not mean that you have an itchy or uncomfortable bite or that the area around the bite is swollen, red, or tender.

A true allergy to fire ants will manifest itself in:
  • Hives on other parts of the body
  • Stomach cramps, diarrhea, or vomiting
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Swelling of the tongue or lips

The allergy can progress to anaphylaxis which causes:
  • Dizzyness
  • Drop in blood pressure
  • Cardiac arrest
  • Closure of the throat

Repeated exposure to your allergen can cause you to have a more severe reaction each time you are bitten.

We will have to monitor Punkin closely and try to avoid fire ants in the future.  We have already seen a fire ant allergy in our oldest daughter Curly.  Her reaction has been more severe each time she was stung.  The last time she had a sting, it took 3 days for her rash and swelling to subside. 


Kathryn @ Mamacado said...

Oh no! How scary! So sorry this happened to your little cutie. Now, since I'm a mama who has dreams (shall we call them nightmares?) about using the epipen, I'm wondering...how did you decide that it wasn't a food allergy related reaction and decide NOT to use the epipen? I always wonder if I or other caregivers will be able to recognize a reaction and know when to use it. Thanks for sharing!

Lexi Henegar said...

Well, there's no good answer to that question.
Punkin had not been diagnosed with any food allergies and all her testing was negative. While I know that many times the testing is not accurate, I guess I was just very hopeful that she was going to be allergy free.

She does not have a prescribed Epi-pen so when she had swelling my first thought was to take her in. She wasn't having difficulty breathing and was calming down so I knew the reaction was not as severe as some of Bee's.

In hindsight I probably should have used the Epi on her to be safe. It just didn't occur to me in the moment of panic that I could use the Epi on her. In talking with the dr's I would still use the same Epi Junior on Punkin even though she's much smaller.

It is hard to know when to use the Epi pen. And it's usually better to take a cautious approach and use the Epi Pen when there is a reaction that covers all of the body like Punkin's reaction.
I always worry about the same things. It's not always clear which reactions are going to continue getting worse and which will clear up quickly.

With Punkin I was fairly certain that it was not an allergy to something she had eaten because she had not had any food in at least 3 hours. She had been swimming at the pool and there was no food nearby so early in the morning. I know that our pool has an issue with fire ants and that Curly has a fire ant allergy herself, so that was my first suspicion. I'm pretty sure that is what caused the reaction but we'll have to be very careful in the future because Punkin might need an Epi pen the next time.

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