A gnat (sometimes referred to as a midge) is a small two-winged fly and is part of a family of insects that includes mosquitoes and flies. There are both biting and non-biting species of gnats. Unlike wasps and bees, gnats bite rather than sting. Gnats are found in every continent of the world and can usually be found near water or wet soil, especially at dawn and dusk. They fly in large swarms for the purpose of mating and are often drawn to light and can be found swarming around outdoor lighting in summer.
Gnat bites are not usually serious and it is rare to experience a severe or allergic reaction after being bitten. However, some gnats can pass on bacteria from things such as dead animals or rotten food, which can lead to infections when they feed on people.
There are three types of reactions you may have following a gnat bite.
Gnats capable of biting have ‘cutters’ inside their mouths to cut open the skin so that they can feed on the blood beneath. While biting, the gnat injects an anti-clotting agent into the wound. The agent prevents the blood from clotting and allows the gnat to feed on larger quantities of blood; a gnat bite can consequently feel more painful than a mosquito bite. The common symptoms you may find are:
- A ‘bite’ sensation, sharp, burning or stinging sensation
- A ‘pinprick’ spot at either side of the bite
- Irritation and possibly pain
- A less likely, but possible reaction could be: fluid filled blisters surrounding the bite
Scratching an itchy bite can risk infection. Signs of a potentially infected gnat bite are:
- Further swelling and redness around the bite
- Warm skin around the bite
- Hardening of the skin around the area
- Pus draining from the wound
Allergic reaction symptoms
Some people can have a mild allergic reaction to gnat bites. This causes the area surrounding the bite to become swollen, red and painful. However, rapid onset of any of the following symptoms following a gnat bite could indicate a severe allergic reaction (anaphylaxis). Anaphylaxis is potentially life-threatening and requires emergency treatment. Symptoms of a severe allergic reaction include:
- Swelling of the throat and tongue
- Facial swelling
- Additional skin reactions, including itching, hives and pale or flushed skin
- Difficulty breathing
- A weak, rapid pulse
- Dizziness or fainting
- Loss of consciousness
- Additional possible symptoms include: nausea, vomiting, diarrhea and abdominal pain
In the unusual event that a bite causes symptoms of a severe reaction, you will need immediate emergency care. If your bite is showing signs of being infected, we recommend that you contact Ahmey’s and make an appointment to see a doctor. If the bite is incredibly swollen, the doctor might prescribe a topical cream or oral medication to reduce swelling. If the bite is infected, the doctor may also potentially prescribe antibiotics.
Gnat bites do not usually require medical treatment. If you experience any symptoms of an infection, contact Ahmey’s to make an appointment. If you experience any symptoms of a severe allergic reaction, you will need immediate emergency treatment. Any mild discomfort can be treated by the patient themselves in the ways shown below.
First aid for gnat bites:
- Wash the affected area gently with soap and water and apply an antiseptic to clean the wound and reduce the chance of a bacterial infection
- Place an ice pack or a cold compress (cloth or flannel cooled with cold water) to reduce any swelling
- If possible, elevate or raise the affected area to reduce swelling
- Avoid scratching the area to reduce the risk of introducing infection
- You can purchase anti-inflammatory and anti-itching creams, such as Hydrocortisone, over the counter to relieve itching and reduce inflammation caused by insect bites and stings
- Gnats are most active at dawn and dusk. They breed in wet ground and near water.
- To avoid being bitten, try to avoid going out when the gnats are at their most active.
- If possible, wear long-sleeved shirts and trousers and apply an insect repellant that contains 10% to 30% DEET when near areas of standing water, such as marshes, lakes and reservoirs.