Gnat Bites: Symptoms and Treatments

The word gnat doesn’t just refer to just one type of bug. Gnats comprise a variety of flying insects, some of which bite. Biting midges, black flies and no-see-ums are all commonly referred to as gnats and are especially active during the warm, summer months.

These tiny, flying pests are an endless nuisance, especially the biting varieties. Biting gnats gather in large numbers in the evening and early morning and, when they attack, can leave you with a rash of painful, itchy bites. These differ from mosquito bites in that gnat bites typically form open lesions on the skin, and require different treatment as a result. So, how can you tell a gnat bite from a mosquito bite, and how can you take the pain away?

What are gnats?

The word gnat refers to multiple species of flying insect, including biting midges, black flies and no-see-ums.

These tiny, colorless bugs are so small they’re almost invisible, but they readily bite both humans and pets. You are most likely to encounter gnats in the evening or early morning and on cloudy, windless days. Gnat bites are irritating and painful and can form open, long-lasting lesions in some people.

Female gnats feed on blood, which they need for the production of eggs. Their specially-adapted mouthparts feature cutting teeth along an elongated proboscis, which facilitates biting and blood-sucking. Male gnats do not need blood to survive and can live on nectar alone.

Who gets gnat bites?

Gnats are known to bite both humans and animals so your pets may suffer, too. However, gnat bites look different on humans compared to dogs and cats – here’s how to spot them on both yourself and your furry friends.

What do gnat bites look like?

Gnat bites on humans

Like mosquito bites, gnat bites often appear as small, itchy lumps which may form welts. Unlike mosquitoes, however, gnats use razor-sharp teeth to tear and the skin and expose the blood vessels beneath. Gnat saliva is known to contain anti-coagulant proteins which prevent blood from clotting, making it easier for them to suck it from the wound.

This creates an open wound that is usually painful, and the site around the bite often becomes swollen, inflamed, red and very itchy. Compulsive scratching at the bite can further damage the skin and make the wound larger, paving the way for infection to set in.

Gnat bites on pets

Do gnats bite dogs? Unfortunately, yes; gnats will bite both humans and animals, so your pets aren’t safe from this summertime pest either. Gnats and midges most often bite dogs on the belly, leaving small, red lesions, not unlike those seen on human skin. These can be as itchy and uncomfortable for your pet as they are for you so, if your dog is regularly being bitten, you can ask your vet about medicated shampoo to repel bugs and soothe their bites.

Can you have an allergic reaction to gnat bites?

Gnat bites are generally harmless but, rarely, can cause a severe allergic response. Most people only suffer a mild, local reaction to gnat bites including redness, swelling, and itching. However, some people experience a larger local reaction and, very occasionally, anaphylactic shock.

How long do gnat bites last?

Gnat bites typically last anywhere between two days and a week, depending on how severely you react to them. If the wound becomes infected due to excessive scratching, it may take longer than a week to heal completely.

How to get rid of gnat bites

The first thing to do when you are bitten by gnats is to wash the area thoroughly with soap and water. This will kill any bacteria at the site, helping to prevent infection from setting in. Once you’ve cleaned the bites, you can apply an antiseptic (such as rubbing alcohol, iodine or hydrogen peroxide) and get to work on alleviating the itchiness and pain of gnat bites.

Over the counter remedies for gnat bites

Calamine lotion

Calamine lotion is an over the counter product that can be used to soothe the itching caused by the bites of gnats and other insects. Simply apply a little of the lotion with a cotton ball to affected areas and wait for it to dry. This can help to reduce the irritation, pain, and itching caused by gnat bites so they can be left to heal quickly.

Anti-itch creams containing hydrocortisone

Hydrocortisone is a synthetic version of the natural hydrocortisone hormone. It is known to suppress inflammatory responses, which is what causes the itching brought about by gnat bites. It is, therefore, a common ingredient in over-the-counter anti-itch creams, which can effectively soothe the irritation caused by gnat bites. This can also help to reduce scratching which, in turn, lowers the risk of infection.

Neosporin and pain-relief ointment

This over the counter medicated ointment can help to relieve the pain of gnat bites. It also has antibacterial properties, helping to reduce the risk of infection. Apply it to your bites for effective relief from pain and irritation.

Home remedies for gnat bites

Make a cold compress

Applying ice to your bites can help to bring down swelling and inflammation around the effective area.

Keep in mind!

By cooling and numbing the skin, this can also help to reduce the pain and inflammation of gnat bites.

To make a cold compress, simply wrap a few ice cubes inside a damp washcloth or towel and place it over your bites. Leave it in place for at least 15 minutes to allow the cold to work its magic. Remember never to apply ice directly to the skin, as the extreme cold can cause further damage and pain.

Use apple cider vinegar

Apple cider vinegar is a popular home remedy used to treat the stings and bites of a variety of insects. When applied to gnat bites, it can provide effective relief from pain and itching. To treat your gnat bites with apple cider vinegar, apply some to a cotton ball and hold it over affected areas until it starts to feel better.

Make a baking soda paste

Whip up a simple baking soda paste for easy and effective relief from gnat bites. To use this treatment, mix one tablespoon of baking soda with a little water to make a paste. Smear this over your bites and leave it there for 10 minutes before washing it away with water.

Caution: baking soda can cause skin irritation in sensitive people. If this happens, discontinue using it immediately.

How can you stop gnats from biting you?

Use a bug repellent spray

One of the most effective ways to prevent gnat bites is to use a personal bug repellent spray. These are widely available for purchase over the counter and can be applied directly to the skin, where the active ingredients repel gnats and a wide range of other biting bugs.

DEET is the most powerful insect repellent currently available on the market. This potent insecticide provides long-lasting protection from insects and is advisable in areas with lots of bugs, such as tropical regions. However, if you prefer natural remedies, there are also a variety of effective repellents that utilize plant-derived ingredients over insecticides. Sprays containing lemon eucalyptus oil or citronella can effectively stop gnats from biting you, though the effects typically don’t last as long as DEET sprays.

Wear long, loose-fitting clothes

The best method of preventing gnat bites is to keep the bugs off your skin altogether. Wearing long, loose-fitting clothing that covers your arms and legs can help to stop biting insects from sinking their teeth into you. This is especially important in the evening and morning, when most species of biting bug are most active.

Install fans and bug screens around your home

Fixing your windows and doors with bug screens can help to keep a wide array of insects out of your home, including mosquitoes. They can also help to reduce the number of gnats that find their way inside, though these bugs are so tiny that they may even be able to fit through the mesh of screens. In they do get in, however, there is one more weapon you can use to your advantage, and that’s a simple fan.

This is because gnats are weak fliers and are easily disturbed by windy conditions. Installing a few fans in your house can help to keep the bugs away from you, even if they do manage to find their way indoors.

Conclusion

Gnats are a common summer pest, and biting varieties frequently attack humans and animals. These tiny flies use razor sharp teeth to hack away at your skin and guzzle the blood beneath, leaving a painful, inflamed bite in their wake. With repeated scratching, these often form open lesions which can quickly become infected.

The best way to treat gnat bites is to first clean and disinfect the area thoroughly, before applying something to ease the irritation. Over the counter creams and lotions, cold compresses and apple cider vinegar can all be effective for reducing the stinging and itching caused by gnat bites, while keeping the area clean can stop infection from setting in.

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