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What's a Gnat?

A gnat (say: NAT) is one of a family of insects that includes flies and mosquitoes. Gnats are actually tiny flies and are sometimes called blackflies or midges.

Gnats are found anyplace in the world where there is a river or stream because they lay their eggs in watery places. They need the blood of warm-blooded animals to survive. Unlike mosquitoes, gnats usually don't bite through clothing. But they can crawl into hair or under clothing to get at places such as ankles and belt lines.

What a Bite Looks and Feels Like

A person who gets bitten by a gnat may not even know it at the time. But soon after, the area around the bite will start to swell up. There may be a little bit of blood coming from the bite. The bite will be very itchy and can be painful.

What You Should Do

If you've been bitten by a gnat, wash the bite with soap and water. Because gnats can pick up bacteria from other things they've landed on (like rotten food or dead animals), it's also a good idea to swab the bite with a little antiseptic.

An adult can find an anti-itch cream or anti-itch medicine that you swallow at the drugstore to help you with the itching. If the bite hurts a lot, you can ask an adult if you can take some pain medication. Putting an ice pack on the bite can also make it feel less painful.

What a Doctor Will Do

If the area around a gnat bite is very swollen, a doctor might prescribe a special cream or medicine by mouth. If you develop an infection from scratching the bite, he or she may also prescribe an antibiotic to clear up the infection.

While it's very unusual for someone to have an allergic reaction to a gnat bite, you should tell an adult right away if you feel sick, have a hard time breathing, or get hives (red patches on the skin that sting and itch) on your skin. The doctor can treat allergic reactions with medicines.

How to Avoid Getting Bitten

The best way to avoid getting bitten by gnats is to wear an insect repellent. Ask your mom or dad to apply one that contains 10% to 30% DEET. When it's possible, wear long-sleeved shirts and long pants if you'll be hiking or playing near rivers and streams.

Reviewed by: Elana Pearl Ben-Joseph, MD
Date reviewed: April 2013

 
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