During certain seasons of the year, especially late spring and early summer, gnats seem to be everywhere. While not all gnats bite, the ones that do can cause some real discomfort.
Gnat bites usually aren’t serious, but if left untreated complications can occur, that may require medical attention. Wondering what to do if you’ve been bitten by a gnat? Read on to find out everything you need to know about identifying and properly treating gnat bites.
What Are Gnats and Which Ones Will Bite?
Gnats are really tiny flies. Some of them are as small as 1/25″ long. Others range from 1/8″ to 1/4″ long.
There are three main varieties of biting gnats – midges, sandflies, and black flies. Gnats are very much like mosquitoes in that they like warm, wet environments, and they bite to ingest blood. Female gnats are usually the ones that bite.
Midges, the tiniest of gnats, also have the nastiest bite. When you get an insect bite but you never saw what bit you, that’s probably a bite from a midge. They’re often so small that they can’t be seen by the naked eye.
Sand flies are a bit larger than midges, about an 1/8″, so you’re more likely to see these buggers before they sink in their teeth. Sand flies fly and feed in swarms, so you’re likely to get bit while walking through a cloud of them. Sand flies aren’t very strong fliers, so when it gets windy they retreat.
Black flies are the largest gnats, ranging from 1/5″ to 1/4″. If you’ve ever been hiking during the late spring and early summer, you’ve likely encountered a swarm of black flies. As with sand flies, you’re most likely to get bit by walking through a swarm of these nasty insects, which can leave you literally eaten alive.
Where Are Gnats Found?
Gnats can be found pretty much anywhere, inside or out. The key ingredients for their perfect habitat are moisture and warmth.
Outside, gnats love to congregate around standing water and swarm around moist dirt on hot days. This is why they’re often found in the woods, but gardens and compost piles are also ideal hangouts for gnats.
When gnats make their way inside, they’re looking for the same conditions they like to hang out in outside – warm and moist. They’re most likely to congregate around overripe fruit that’s been in your pantry or on the counter for a few days. They also love houseplants and compost buckets. If you’ve got food scraps in your trash, they may hang out there too.
What Are the Symptoms of Gnat Bites?
When you first get bit by a gnat, you’ll feel a sharp burning sensation at the site of the bite. This is because of the anticoagulant that gnats inject when they bite so they can ingest your blood without it clotting.
The area around the bite will turn red and may swell. For some people, this swelling is mild, but others will experience a lot of swelling at the site of the bite. Some people experience a serious allergic reaction to gnat bites that results in severe swelling and even blisters.
The site of the bite will also be very itchy. It’s important that you refrain from itching the bite. Itching further opens the skin at the site of the bite, allowing bacteria to get in. This can cause an infection. Most gnat bite complications are because of infection of the bite site.
Some people experience more serious reactions. They may develop a fever a few hours after being bitten. People allergic to gnats may break out in hives and have trouble breathing. These more serious symptoms aren’t common, but they happen.
As with any other insect bite, you probably won’t know you’re allergic until you get bitten for the first time. If you notice serious swelling, a fever, hives, or difficulty breathing, contact your doctor immediately.
How Should You Treat Gnat Bites?
Gnat bites can usually be treated at home with basic first aid measures.
The first thing you should do is thoroughly wash the bite site. Use warm water and antibacterial soap. This helps remove the anticoagulant that gnats inject with their bite, which can help relieve the burning sensation at the bite site.
Washing with warm water and antibacterial soap also helps prevent infection. Since gnats bite, not sting, they leave an open sore at the bite site. If bacteria make its way into this sore, it can easily get infected. So, thoroughly washing the bite site as soon as possible is essential.
After the bite site has been washed, an antiseptic should be applied. You can use rubbing alcohol, iodine, or hydrogen peroxide depending on your preference.
Once the bite site has been washed and antiseptic has been applied, you can use various remedies to reduce the uncomfortable symptoms.
Apple cider vinegar can be applied to the bite site to reduce itchiness and swelling. A cold washcloth can also help to reduce swelling.
If the itchiness is unbearable, you can head to your local pharmacy and get some hydrocortisone cream. Look for one that contains aloe, which also helps moisturize and cool the skin around the bite.
Some people swear by essential oils for treating gnat bites. Many of the essential oils that will help ease the pain of a gnat bite also have antiseptic properties, so using essential oils can also help prevent infections. Try applying peppermint oil, tea tree oil, chamomile oil, or lavender oil to the bite site to help relieve symptoms.
When you’ve tried these treatments and your symptoms don’t improve after a few days, contact your doctor. Gnat bites can lead to various medical issues if left they don’t heal properly.
Do Gnats Carry Diseases?
Thankfully, gnats do not carry or transmit the same serious diseases that mosquitoes do. Mostly, biting gnats only transmit diseases to livestock. The eye gnat, which has been linked to pinkeye in humans, doesn’t bite. But as the name implies, they do like to fly into your eyes, so watch out for that!
While black flies don’t transmit disease, their bites can transmit a parasite that causes disease in humans. Gnats who carry the Onchocerca parasite can deposit the parasite’s larvae into the skin of a human when they bite.
If the bite is not treated and the larvae mature in the human body, it can lead to a disease known as onchocerciasis. This is a very serious illness that can lead to a painful skin rash, bumps under the skin, swelling of the lymph nodes, and even blindness.
When you develop any of these symptoms after being bitten by a gnat, seek medical treatment immediately.
What Should You Do to Prevent Gnat Bites?
There are a few ways that you can protect yourself from gnat bites.
If you’re headed outside into gnat friendly habitats, choose the time of day wisely. Gnats love to come out at dusk and dawn, so planning your outdoor activities during other times of the day can help prevent bites.
You can also prevent bites by choosing your outfit wisely. Most gnats aren’t able to bite through clothing.
Wearing long pants and long sleeves when you’re headed into gnat territory can ensure they can’t get to your skin. Tighter clothes are better so the gnats can’t get under the fabric. If you’re headed out during gnat prime time or to a place where gnats love to swarm – like rivers, lakes, and streams – wear a mesh net over your face to prevent bites.
Insect repellents are also effective. The insect repellent you use depends on your preferences about which chemicals you expose yourself to.
If you’re okay with a DEET based repellent, these are especially effective. When you want to avoid DEET, there are plenty of natural repellents that work well. Apply repellent to any exposed skin and to all of your clothing.
How Should You Get Rid of Gnats in Your Home?
Once you get gnats in your home, getting rid of them can be tricky. The best option is to use a sticky trap. When gnats fly into these traps, which are sticky on both sides, they get stuck and eventually die.
Place sticky traps throughout your home in places that provide the perfect gnat habitat. Hang them in the pantry, the kitchen, and around the garbage or compost bucket. You can also attach them to the outside of potted plants.
Prevention is the best way to deal with gnats. So, once the traps eliminate your infestation, take steps to prevent further gnat problems.
Dispose of fruit before it over-ripens and throw it in an outdoor trash bin. Make sure compost buckets are emptied regularly. Take out the trash frequently, especially if you’re tossing out food.
Making sure gnats don’t get in is another important part of prevention. Make sure there aren’t any holes in your window screens or the screen door. And make sure to close the door quickly when entering or exiting!
Dealing With Gnats
Gnats are annoying little buggers, but dealing with them doesn’t have to be! The same goes for gnat bites.
Follow the simple steps in this guide to prevent gnat bites and infestations. If you end up getting bit, follow the instructions in this guide and you’ll heal up with no complications.
For more information about dealing with gnats and other pesky insects, check out our blog.