A mother applying anti-itch cream to her child's gnat bite. Share on Pinterest

It’s probably not uncommon to see gnats flying around your home or yard. They’re often mistaken for mosquitos, but they’re much smaller in size. Gnats are sometimes called no-see-ums because they’re so small.

Some species of gnats bite humans. The bites usually cause tiny, red bumps that are itchy and irritating. Although it’s uncommon, there are some instances where gnat bites may cause a severe allergic reaction.

In this article, we’ll discuss what gnat bites look like, along with ways to treat them at home. We also have advice on how to prevent these annoying bites in the first place, and when you should see a doctor.

Gnats are tiny, bloodsucking flies that are similar to mosquitos. They’re usually about 1/4 inch in size, but some types may be smaller.

Depending on the species, gnats may also be called:

  • midges
  • no-see-ums
  • punkies
  • black flies
  • moose flies
  • buffalo flies

Both male and female gnats feed on plant nectar. In some species, the females also need blood meal to make eggs. That’s why they bite mammals such as livestock, poultry, pets, and humans.

When a gnat bites, it uses scissor-like mouth structures to cut the skin. It inserts saliva into the skin, which contains substances called anticoagulants. These substances thin the blood so it’s easier to digest.

Gnat bites usually look like mosquito bites. The symptoms are caused by a minor allergic reaction to the gnat’s saliva.

Typically, gnat bites cause bumps that are:

  • small
  • red
  • painful
  • very itchy
  • swollen

You might also notice bleeding where the gnat bit your skin. In some people, the bumps turn into blisters filled with fluid.

If you have a minor reaction to gnat bites, you can treat them at home. Your symptoms should get better within a few days.

The most effective ways to take care of gnat bites include the following five treatments.

1. Soap and water

Gently wash the bites with mild soap and cool water. This helps clean the area while soothing any irritation.

After washing the affected area, carefully pat it dry. Rubbing the bites may worsen your symptoms.

2. Cold compress

Applying a cold compress may help ease irritation and swelling. You can use a:

  • cloth or towel soaked in cold water
  • ice pack wrapped in a moist towel
  • ice cubes in a plastic bag
  • frozen bag of vegetables with a moist cloth wrapped around the bag

For best results, apply the cold compress for at least 10 minutes at a time, several times a day. Never apply ice directly on your skin.

3. Anti-itch creams

To help relieve itching, apply a thin layer of hydrocortisone cream to the affected area. This type of cream contains a medicine called corticosteroids, which can help reduce the irritation, redness, and itchiness caused by gnat bites.

You can also use calamine lotion, which is best suited to minor skin irritations.

Both treatments are available without a prescription. Always read the directions before using.

4. Antihistamines

Antihistamines treat allergic reactions, including a reaction to insect bites. They may provide relief by reducing itchiness and irritation.

Since antihistamines are available over the counter, you can buy them without a prescription. Be sure to follow the instructions on the packaging.

5. Elevate the affected area

If you were bitten on your arms or legs, try to keep the body part raised. This may help move blood away from the area and decrease swelling.

Gnat bites sometimes require medical attention. You should visit a doctor if:

  • you were bitten around the mouth or eyes
  • your symptoms get worse or don’t go away within 2 weeks
  • you have symptoms of a skin infection, such as pus

Depending on your symptoms, your doctor may recommend a prescription ointment or cream.

Although it’s very rare, gnat bites are capable of causing a life-threatening allergic reaction called anaphylaxis. This life-threatening condition requires immediate emergency attention.

Call 911 if you or someone in your family develop the following symptoms:

  • trouble breathing
  • wheezing when breathing
  • swollen throat, lips, or eyelids
  • difficulty swallowing
  • rapid heartbeat
  • dizziness
  • lightheadedness
  • nausea
  • confusion

Although you may not be able to completely prevent gnat bites, there are steps you can take to reduce your risk.

  • Avoid bodies of water. Gnats are often found near swamps, ponds, marshes, and streams. If possible, avoid or limit how much time you spend around these areas.
  • Cover exposed skin. Gnats usually bite around the face, but they can bite any area of exposed skin. Wear long-sleeved shirts and long pants when you’re outside.
  • Use insect repellent. After using sunscreen, apply an insect repellent that contains DEET to any areas of exposed skin. If you prefer a more natural alternative, use a product containing oil of lemon eucalyptus.
  • Wear light clothing. Some gnats may be attracted to dark-colored clothes. It’s also recommended to avoid wearing light blue.
  • Wear closed shoes. Wearing closed shoes outside can help protect your feet from gnat bites.
  • Install window screens. To keep gnats out of your home, install mesh screens in your windows and doors. A ceiling or floor fan may also keep them away.
  • Avoid using scented products. Products with strong odors, such as shampoo and perfume, may attract insects like gnats.

Gnat bites can be annoying, but your symptoms should get better within a few days. Apply a cold compress or hydrocortisone cream to soothe any itching. You can also take an antihistamine to reduce irritation.

In rare cases, gnat bites may lead to severe allergic reactions. If the bites don’t go away, or if you have signs of anaphylaxis, get medical help immediately.