Gnat is a broad term, which is interpreted in different ways. The US scientists consider biting midges, biting midges (a.k.a. no-see-ums, sand flies, pinyon gnats, punkies etc), black flies (buffalo gnats) and fungus gnats to be gnats. Generally, gnats are small annoying flying midges, which get in your face, eyes and mouth, in contrast, for example, from other insects, such as mosquitoes which travel in a swarming cloud rather than individually. The eye gnats and home midges, such as fruit flies and drain flies are also sometimes thought to be gnats.
As you can see, the list of gnats & "gnat-like" insects is quite impressive. Do all of them bite? How dangerous are these bites and what to do with them? Let’s investigate the matter below.
Do gnats bite? Gnat Bites Symptoms
Yes, many types of gnats bite because they need human or animal blood to lay eggs, that’s why only female gnats suck blood while the males feed on nectar. However, the gnats are so tiny and alike that it’s sometimes difficult to understand what kind of pest bit you. The following comparative table "Gnats & gnat-like insects: do they bite or not?” will help you figure it all out.
Do They Bite?
Biting midges (no-see-ums, sand flies, pinyon gnats, punkies)
The smallest gnats, up to 1/30 of an inch, are almost invisible
Intensive burning sensation during the bite, pain, heavy swelling and long itching, blisters take much time to heal
Black flies (buffalo gnats)
Black flies (1/16 inch)
Painful burning bite with tingling, itching and swelling
Tiny gnats flying near your face
They don't bite but fly into your eyes, nose and mouth
NB! Biting gnats’ bites are especially painful because they pierce the skin not with their proboscis, but with their jaws, tearing tiny pieces of flesh. That is why sharp pain and burning are the main symptoms of bites of biting gnats and they help you distinguish the bites of such gnats from mosquito bites.
How to Protect Yourself from Gnat Bites with the Best Repellent Spray
Gnats are attracted by open body parts, so you have to make sure you wear long sleeves when you go out early in the morning or late at night in summer. If there are too many gnats, use gnat repellent spray to protect yourself and your family, especially if you’re going camping or you live in a marshy area. Which repellents are better, synthetic or organic ones?
The Best Chemical and Natural Gnat Repellents
University of Florida entomologists recommend using DEET-based repellents. You can use such proven DEET-based repellents as Repel 100.
Repel 100 Insect Repellent, 4 oz. Pump Spray
A Repel repellent is one of the most popular and effective repelling sprays against mosquitoes. Its DEET concentration is 98%! It is supposed to protect you not only from mosquito and tick bites but also from gnat bites. Positive customer feedback is a sign that the spray is working. However, the consumers agree that a single use effect is not sufficient:
“Here in East Texas this year, it's like living in a rain forest due to El Nino. It rains every day. My problem is biting gnats. When it comes to gnats, Repel 100 lasts about 1 1/2 hours. Gnats like your ears, neck, lips, nose, eyes, and elbows. Why? Ask the gnats. But putting Repel 100 around these areas is effective”. However, if gnats have become a real disaster, 1.5 hours is also a success, isn’t it? Read over 1800 other customer reviews.
Price: Check the current price
What should you do if you don’t want to use synthetic chemicals to protect yourself from gnats?
We recommend those who have sensitive skin and are thus contraindicated to use DEET-based repellents and other synthetic products, as well as to pregnant women and children to turn to natural repellents. They contain essential oils which protect you from biting gnats.
The following product is considered to be of great quality:
Buggins Repellent Gnat Fly Deet-Free
This natural repellent for Check current price is promised to rid you of black flies (buffalo gnats) attacks near the waterfalls. However, as the customers claim, it is just as effective against other biting gnats’ bites. Moreover, it has a pleasant smell as geranium oil, peppermint oil, lemongrass oil and clove oil are found among the ingredients. This spray has become irreplaceable for many families: «My entire family loves this stuff!! Works well on gnats and other flying bugs--scent is also really nice, not too overpowering and/or chemical smell--this is natural and pleasant. I buy these 6 at a time because I DO NOT WANT TO BE WITHOUT!» It is also used to protect kids and dogs when going out.
Price: Check current price
If you want to learn more about the repellents, follow our review of the 18 best mosquito repellents
How Dangerous Are Gnats for Humans?
It is extremely frustrating when gnats fly into your eyes or bite you, isn’t it? But apart from the discomfort and unpleasant symptoms which include itching, burning and swelling, any gnat bite can cause an allergy. Among the common allergy symptoms you’ll find severe rash, fever, shortness of breath, diarrhea, etc. Besides the Purdue University entomologists confirm the existence of an allergy to the black fly (buffalo gnat) bite: "Reactions to black fly bites that collectively are known as" black fly fever "include headache, nausea, fever, and swollen lymph nodes in the neck". Any strange symptoms after the gnat bite require urgent antihistamine treatment (if you have been diagnosed with an allergy) or to an immediate visit to a doctor.
The worst-case scenario is being contaminated with some disease. The list of possible viral infections depends on where and who bit you. It’s very easy to catch something in Central or South America and Africa, so make sure you prepare well before travelling to tropical regions. In the U.S. there is no gnat bite disease epidemic, but you still have to be on the lookout.
Biting midges (no-see-ums, sand flies etc). In Central and South America, West and Central Africa and some Caribbean islands they can contaminate a bitten victim with filarial worms in the genus Mansonella. These parasites cause skin lesions in and dermatitis as adult worms settle in the skin. They are also potential carriers of leishmaniasis, which is practically impossible to pick up, while in the US, but is piece of cake to catch while traveling in Mexico or Latin America. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention information, a leishmaniasis vaccine does not exist, and there is a particularly dangerous lethal form of the disease.
Black flies. Once again the Purdue University scientists knowledgeably claim that “Black flies can be annoying biting pests, but none are known to transmit disease agents to humans in the U. S”.
Eye gnats. In spite of the fact that the eye gnats do not bite, they can carry such diseases as acute conjunctivitis (pink eye), yaws (frambesia tropica) etc. These gnats aim at attacking the mucous membranes, which is why pathogenic viruses are transmitted extremely quickly.
How to Treat Gnat Bites
1. Wash the Affected Part of the Skin
Wash the affected part of the skin with soap and water or with alcohol-containing remedy. It not only helps remove all kind of dirt particles from the skin which could have caused further infection but also soothes gnat bites.
2. Control the Swelling and the Itching
Don’t scratch bites! If microbes get into wounds, this can result in secondary infection. Itching can be immediately controlled by putting an ice bar over the infected area. This helps to control that intense itching and pain. If itching is awful, use such products as StingEze Dauber for a Check current price – this low-cost remedy is recommended by scientists because it helps to eliminate pain & itching and reduces infection. Or you may apply Benadryl Itch Relief Spray for a Check current price: it’s a multipurpose remedy with a 4.6 stars rating.
OR You may also try traditional methods. A mixture of baking soda and water may also work.
3. Take Antihistamine drugs if you need
Antihistamine pills help to fight allergic reactions and are an excellent gnat bites remedy. Take these drugs (as recommended by the doctor) before it swells too much. This will help control the itching, pain, and swelling at early stages.
Everyone is so used to gnat bites that no one takes them seriously, and very few people link their symptoms, such as fever and drowsiness to these bites. Mind that sometimes the bites can be dangerous. Take care of yourself, use repellents (especially when travelling) and, if possible, avoid leaving the house early in the morning and during twilight in summer. The gnats win because of their quantity. However, they don’t know that you have already read this article and are ready to encounter them! Stay healthy and read our guide on getting rid of gnats and our article about how to kill fungus gnats.