Gnats are a pain – literally. Some bite, others suck blood – and others just munch away on plants. What most people call “gnats” are actually fungus gnats or fruit flies, and some can be a serious nuisance.
If you’re bitten by one of these tiny winged creatures, you’re dealing with gnats and not fruit flies.
What should you do if you get bit? What’s the best way to get rid of the bite? Here’s everything you need to know about gnat bites.
Table of Contents
- Do Gnats Bite?
- Do Gnats Bite Humans?
- What Does a Gnat Bite Look Like?
- Do Gnat Bites Itch?
- How Long Do Gnat Bites Last?
- How to Treat Gnat Bites
- 1. Wash the Bite Area
- 2. Bring Down the Swelling and Minimize the Itching
- 3. Check for Signs of Infection and Reapply Treatments
- Preventing Gnat Bites
Do Gnats Bite?
Gnats are tiny flies, and they’re sometimes called midges or blackflies. Similar to mosquitoes, these insects prefer warm, moist places where they can lay their eggs. They also need blood to survive.
Yes, gnats can and do bite. And while they can’t bite through clothing, they can get underneath your clothing and even crawl into your hair. These are tiny creatures.
But it’s important to note that not all gnats bite. Some just feed on decaying plant matter.
Do Gnats Bite Humans?
Yes, gnats will bite humans. But you’ll be happy to know that while their bites can be an annoyance, these insects are not known to transmit the disease to humans.
The only exception is the eye gnat, which is known to transmit conjunctivitis.
Not all gnats bite and not all biting gnats bite humans. The most common types of biting gnats include:
1. Biting Midges
Biting midges are commonly referred to as “no-see-ums” and flying teeth. They’re typically gray in color, but they can be pink or red after they have a blood meal.
These gnats may be tiny (1/25-1/8 inches long), but they are vicious biters. They will bite any area of the body that’s exposed.
These pests prefer to bite in the early morning and early evening hours, but they’ll feed for longer periods of time when the sky is overcast and there’s minimal wind. Because they travel in swarms, you can easily get eaten alive (figuratively) by these insects.
If you’re complaining about being bitten by something that you can’t see, it’s probably a biting midge.
Along with being a pain, biting midges can also transmit diseases to cattle and sheep, including the bluetongue virus.
2. Sand Flies
Sandflies can be gray or a golden-brownish color. They’re only about 1/8″ long with a humped back and long, slender legs. These insects hold their wings in a V-shape when they’re at rest. Only the females are capable of biting.
Sandflies are weak fliers, so they’re less likely to bite on windy days. Although less common than biting midges, bites from sand flies can cause irritation and other skin-related symptoms. They can also transmit fly fever, although this is rare.
3. Black Flies
Black flies are also known as black gnats, turkey flies or buffalo gnats. Like sand flies, the females are the ones that primarily feed on blood.
These gnats are 1/5″-1/4″ long with shiny black color. Their legs are short, and they have stout bodies.
Black flies like to travel and feed in swarms, focusing on the head. Initially, the bites from these gnats are painless, but they can bleed quite a bit. Symptoms may include itching and burning. Some people develop a fever or have blood spots where females have fed. These symptoms can persist for several days.
Some biting gnats may transmit diseases that affect animals, particularly livestock. Biting midges, for example, are known to transmit the Blue Tongue virus, which is a major cause of disease among livestock in the Western region of the United States. The Blue Tongue virus does not affect humans.
What Does a Gnat Bite Look Like?
When gnats bite, they don’t actually break the skin like mosquitoes or fleas. Instead, they use what’s called “cutters” inside of their mouths to slice your skin open. That slicing action gives them access to your blood, which they feed on to survive.
Some types of gnats may also inject an anti-clotting agent that prevents your wound from clotting quickly, so they can continue feeding uninterrupted.
Gnat bites are small, and may look like a simple pinprick. Some people may notice a tiny red spot at the site of the bite.
Swelling is common around the site of the bite, which can cause skin irritation. In cases where the bite is infected, it may swell larger and contain pus.
Some people are allergic to gnat bites, which can cause more extreme symptoms and swell at the site of the bite. A visit to the doctor is advised if you experience allergy symptoms after being bit by a gnat.
To get a better idea of what they look like, we recommend searching for gnat bites pictures online.
Do Gnat Bites Itch?
Yes. More often than not, gnat bites will be incredibly itchy. But other people experience more of a painful sensation than an itching one.
As the bite begins to swell, the itching will become even more intense. And while this may be difficult, you want to refrain from scratching these bites. Gnat bites can easily become infected from scratching, which will intensify swelling and may require a doctor’s visit for treatment.
How Long Do Gnat Bites Last?
Just like any other insect bite, gnat bites can last anywhere between two days to a week, depending on the number of bites and your reaction to them.
If you have an allergic reaction to the bite, it may take longer to heal. If the wound gets infected, it may be at least a week until you recover from the bite and the infection.
For most people, gnat bites require no treatment. Like mosquito bites, they heal on their own within a few days. But if the itching or pain becomes unbearable (or you just want to speed up the healing process) there are things you can do to find relief.
1. Wash the Bite Area
The first and most important thing is to wash the bite with soap and water. You may also want to apply an antiseptic. Rubbing alcohol can work, or you can go the natural route by applying diluted lavender or rosemary oil.
Hydrogen peroxide and iodine are other conventional antiseptics.
Washing the bite and applying an antiseptic can help prevent infection, which will require more aggressive treatment.
2. Bring Down the Swelling and Minimize the Itching
There are several ways to reduce inflammation and minimize the itching from gnat bites. Some methods are natural, while others are more conventional.
Please note that these methods will work for all gnat bites, including buffalo gnat bites and sand gnat bites.
1. Apple Cider Vinegar
Try applying a little apple cider vinegar (ACV) to the wound. AVC is known for its anti-inflammatory properties, and can also relieve itching from the bite. This vinegar can also serve as an antiseptic.
To use this method, soak a cotton ball in the vinegar, and apply directly to the bite.
2. Ice the Bite
If the itching and swelling become unbearable, try applying an ice pack to the wound. Allow the ice to work for 15-20 minutes. The cooling sensation will help bring down the swelling while also numbing the skin to alleviate itching.
Do not apply the ice directly to your skin. Keep the pack in between a towel, and do not allow the pack to sit on the wound for longer than 20 minutes. Please do not fall asleep with the ice pack.
3. Apply an Over-the-Counter Anti-Itch Cream
For immediate relief, try applying an over-the-counter anti-itching cream, like Cortizone-10. These creams often contain hydrocortisone, which is a chemical agent that provides temporary itch relief.
These creams may also contain aloe, which soothes the skin.
Calamine lotion is another great option that can help alleviate itching.
4. Essential Oils
When it comes to insect bites, essential oils are a great tool to have on hand. Just a few drops of oil is all you need to find relief from itching and swelling. Most also help prevent infection, helping you take a three-prong approach to treating your bite.
The best essential oils for gnats are:
- Tea tree
- Lemon balm
Thyme mixed with a little bit of apple cider vinegar is especially useful against gnat bites.
It’s important to remember that essential oils are incredibly potent, and they should not be applied directly to the skin. Always dilute the oil with a carrier oil, like almond, apricot, jojoba or coconut oil.
And do check to make sure that you’re using true essential oils and not fragrance oils, which contain synthetic ingredients. Therapeutic-grade essential oils work best.
5. Aspirin Paste
Aspirin can help reduce inflammation, which can ultimately reduce the swelling and itching of your gnat bites.
Simply crush an aspirin pill with the back of a spoon, and then add a small amount of water to create a thick paste. Rub that paste on the bite to alleviate itching and reduce swelling.
Feel free to reapply this treatment as needed until the bite heals and the itching disappears.
6. Avoid Scratching
Gnat bites can be extremely itchy, and it can be really tempting to scratch those bites. But scratching will only prolong the healing process and make your itching and pain worse.
Each time you scratch the bite, you also risk the chance of opening up the wound and it becoming infected.
3. Check for Signs of Infection and Reapply Treatments
Keep a close eye on your bite to check for signs of infection. If you notice that the bite becomes even more swollen and is filled with pus, a trip to the doctor is in order. Your physician will prescribe you a treatment (topical or oral) to help clear the infection.
Make sure to reapply the treatment each day to keep your wound clean and to prevent swelling and itching. If you’re using an over-the-counter anti-itch cream, follow the directions on the box for re-application times and methods.
Cellulitis and Gnat Bites
Cellulitis is a bacterial skin infection that can be caused by a gnat bite or any other type of bug bite. This type of infection is common, and it affects all three layers of your skin.
Cellulitis can cause a variety of symptoms, including:
- Red streaks or spots near the bug bite
- Skin dimpling
- Skin that’s warm to the touch
Although the symptoms seem mild and harmless, this is an infection that requires prescription treatment and a trip to the doctor. Antibiotics will be needed to treat the infection.
If left untreated, the infection can become very serious or deadly.
Although cellulitis can occur anywhere that a break in the skin occurs, it most commonly impacts the skin of the lower body. Any type of itchy bug bite can result in cellulitis if you itch and break the skin. Open wounds allow bacteria to enter the body, where they cause infection.
If left untreated, cellulitis can develop into a more serious infection that causes:
- Swollen lymph nodes
- Pus or drainage from the bite
The infection can spread to your lymph nodes, the bloodstream and even your tissues and bones. When this happens, it’s called a systemic bacterial infection, or sepsis.
Sepsis is a life-threatening medical emergency that requires immediate treatment. It can spread to your nervous system, heart, or blood.
Cellulitis rarely causes death, but it can lead to amputation. If the infection progresses to an advanced stage, you may have to be hospitalized so that doctors can monitor your symptoms and condition.
It’s not common for bug bites to result in cellulitis, but if it does happen, it’s important to see a doctor and begin treatment right away.
Once your doctor has diagnosed the condition, you will likely be prescribed a round of antibiotics that will get rid of the infection in 5-14 days. Catching the infection early on will help prevent it from progressing into something more serious.
How do you know if you should see a doctor? Pay attention to your bite and symptoms. If the red, inflamed area looks like it’s expanding, call your doctor to schedule an appointment. If the area is tender and showing signs of a worsening infection, you should visit the emergency room.
You can monitor the bite and inflamed area by gently drawing a circle around the swollen areas of the skin. You can use a felt-tip marker for this. Check the circle every few hours to see if the inflammation and redness is growing. If the area extends beyond the circle you drew, then this is a sign that the infection is growing and requires medical attention.
Gnats are a nuisance, but their bites will heal on their own in a few days. With a little help from the methods above, you can keep the swelling and itching at bay until the bite finally heals.
Preventing Gnat Bites
The best way to avoid infection is to prevent gnat bites in the first place. Here’s how:
Bug spray is the simplest way to prevent gnat bites. Commercial bug sprays contain active ingredients that will repel gnats, preventing them from making a meal out of you.
Which active ingredients are most effective?
- OLE (oil of lemon eucalyptus)
- PMD (para-menthane-3, 8-diol)
Be Smart About Your Timing
Most gnats prefer to feed in the early morning or early evening. The sun isn’t quite as strong, and there’s usually minimal wind.
Try to avoid being outdoors during these times, or making sure that you’re prepared for the trip by wearing bug repellent and covering up.
Also, gnats like to hang out near porch lights, or around pools and lakes (i.e. standing water). Either avoid these areas or make sure that you’re prepared for them.
Wear the Right Clothing
If you plan to be outdoors when gnats are most active, then make sure that you’re wearing the proper clothing. This means wearing long-sleeved shirts, long pants and socks.
Gnats won’t be able to bite through your clothing, so you’ll have a much lower risk of being bitten if most of your body is covered up.
You can maximize your protection by spraying your clothing with bug spray before you head outdoors. You can also buy special hiking socks that are pre-treated with repellent.
Eliminate Water Sources
Gnats, like mosquitoes, love standing water. Get rid of the standing water in your backyard, and you’ll reduce the risk of being bitten by these insects.
Start by removing all gardening items that can collect water, such as flowerpots and buckets. Clear out clogged gutters and storm drains, which can be breeding grounds for gnats.
Also, make sure that you’re covering your swimming pool with a large tarp or pool cover when it’s not in use.
If you have potted plants, make sure that you’re not overwatering them. This can cause gnats to breed and congregate in the area.