Midges: How to Identify Them, Prevent and Treat Their Bites

Midges are biting flies that can be deterred by our permethrin-treated clothing and gear.

Despite the cute sounding name, midges can be a real nuisance. Midges are actually many different species of tiny flies – between 1 to 3mm. Like mosquitoes, the females of some species need blood in order to reproduce, and, like mosquitoes, one of the best ways to keep midges away is by wearing Insect Shield mosquito repellent clothing.

Midges are found all over the world, typically in coastal areas, swamps, and marshy regions. We call often call them "no-see-ums" in the United States, while in Australia they are called sandflies (although they are not a true sandfly). Many species are important food sources for insectivores like frogs and swallows. Some midges are vectors for disease in livestock.      

How do Midges Bite Humans?

Midges tend to fly in large clusters, so people often have a hard time seeing what’s happening with these itty bitty biters. That’s how they get the name no-see-ums, since you often feel the bites rather than seeing the bugs. Adult midges are gray in color and have cutting teeth to puncture the skin. Once a midge latches onto you, they emit a scent that invites more biters to join in.  

It helps to know when midges are active in your area to avoid them. Some species feed most frequently at dawn and dusk, while some feed during the day. Most midge species do not stray very far from their breeding sites, which are typically marshes, bogs, ponds, and other moist areas. 

People living in midge-infested regions apparently can build up some immunity to the irritation caused by midge bites. So generally, midges create the most nuisance for people who travel to an area where midges are present. For example, hunters, fishermen and golfers who travel to regions in the United States where midges are common often report being under attack by large numbers of no-see-ums. 

What do Midge Bites Look Like?

Like mosquito bites, midge bites often cause irritation and leave tell-tale signs:

  • Cluster of red dots
  • A small hole in the middle of the bite where skin was punctured
  • Some people who are sensitive to bites may get welts or blisters  

Reactions can be severe for those sensitive to bites, which can cause a burning sensation followed by red welts or even blistering.

How to Prevent Midge Bites

It’s not always easy to prevent midge bites but there are precautions you can take.

  • Know when midges are active in your area, usually dawn and dusk
  • Avoid breeding areas like marshes and ponds
  • Wear light colored clothes that provide coverage
  • Better yet, wear Insect Shield repellent clothing, which provides excellent coverage of arms, legs, neck and head
  • Use topical insect repellent, preferably ones with DEET, on exposed skin

How to Treat Midge Bites

Midge bites can be uncomfortable, but they are not known to carry disease in humans. You can take some simple steps to ease the discomfort of bites:

  • Ice the area
  • Use an over-the-counter antihistamine
  • Use antiseptic creams if you have scratched bites and made them bleed
  • See a doctor if you are having an allergic reaction to the bites

How to Repel Midges

If you have to be outside when midges might be present, take these steps to prevent bites:

  • Use DEET as a repellent
  • Cover up in permethrin treated clothes
  • Avoid midge breeding grounds