It’s no secret that flies are one of the biggest annoyances of summer. They buzz around picnic tables, flock to outdoor recreation areas, and sneak into the house whenever a door is open for just a moment too long. Even worse, many varieties of flies seen around the U.S. are known to bite, causing reactions ranging from small, itchy bumps to large, unsightly welts the size of a golf ball. We’ll help you learn to identify what kind of fly might have bitten you and offer tips for relief as well as some help preventing fly bites to begin with.
Black fly bites
Black flies are seen across the United States, and they tend to gather near water sources—particularly creeks and rivers. Their bites are notoriously painful and tend to be seen around the face and neck. These puncture bites can cause severe allergic reactions in some people, and they might swell significantly. Cortisone cream and ice will be the best tools for relief, but you should seek emergency care when there are signs of an allergic reaction, such as difficulty breathing, fever, or nausea. When black flies attack in swarms, their bites may cause more severe injuries.
Gnats, or biting midges, are so small that you may not see your attacker when you’ve been bitten. Their bites will usually be persistently itchy, but you should resist the temptation to scratch and apply cortisone cream or aloe vera instead.
Horse fly bites
If you’re in a hot and humid climate, horse flies will be around—especially if you’re in areas with livestock and large animals, including horses. The good news is, horse flies do not carry diseases transmissible to humans. The bad news is that their bites can hurt a lot. Horse flies have razor-like mouth parts that slice into the skin to more effectively lap up blood. The resulting bite from these fierce slicers may leave a red bump or rash that’s painful and itchy. An antihistamine can offer relief, but you should look for symptoms of wheezing, swelling, or weakness in different parts of the body, which would indicate an allergic reaction.
Deer fly bites
Deer flies are common throughout the country, but they tend to be most prolific through the Southwest. They are attracted to water, and they have mouth parts like the horse fly’s, so they leave behind similarly painful and irritating bites. The same treatment—antihistamines and a topical antiseptic—will provide sufficient relief unless you notice the signs of an allergic reaction, which should be met with emergency care.
Sand fly bites
The Southern United States get hit the hardest with fly infestations, because there are so many flies that prefer the hot, humid climate of the region. Sand flies are yet another fly seen in this region, and they leave behind small red bumps when they bite. Sometimes, these bites can cause skin ulceration that generally subsides over time but can leave permanent scarring. This is a rare side effect, and treatment with soothing aloe vera and topical antiseptic is usually sufficient.
Stable fly bites
Stable flies resemble the common housefly, but they are just a bit smaller and have a propensity for biting humans. You’ll usually see stable fly bites around the feet, ankles, and backs of the knees, and the bites themselves feel like sharp needle pricks. You may need to take a Benadryl or other antihistamine to kill the itching and prevent a breakout of hives in the bitten area.
How to Prevent Fly Bites
The treatment options for fly bites discussed above can be helpful, but the most effective line of treatment is prevention. Around the home, you can avoid flies by keeping things clean and keeping your yard trim and free of debris or standing water. When you head outdoors, apply insect repellant to curb bites. Natural repellants can be safer and less irritating than options like DEET, so look for ingredients like soy or oil of lemon eucalyptus. You might also invest in insect repellant clothing that covers the extremities if you spend lots of time outdoors in the warm weather.
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