Published on July 16, 2020
Last modified on November 9th, 2020
The first signs of head lice are usually an itchy scalp or a note from your child’s school nurse. The thought of having head lice leaves you feeling panicked and wanting a shower. But before starting to consider how you’ll get rid of them, you need to know what these parasites look like.
We’ll get to discussing how to find lice, but first: what exactly are head lice? Well, the head louse evolved to be a very small, wingless insect. It appears about the size of a sesame seed. This parasitic insect requires a head of human hair to survive—and it doesn’t choose its new home in a very selective manner but rather infests any head it can get near. Lice move around by crawling. They eat tiny amounts of blood for nourishment, and their little feet hold on to human hair.
Three forms of head lice exist, and each represents a different stage in the louse’s life cycle. A loose starts as an egg, also known as a nit, moves on to become a nymph, and then fully matures into an adult louse. Adult female lice lay nits on the scalp close to the base of the hair shaft. Lice survive up to 30 days on a person’s head and lay about eight eggs a day. Tiny, oval-shaped nits also attach to the hair shaft, often near the neck or behind the ears.
If the tiny eggs look white or clear, then you know the lice have hatched. If they appear brown, tan, or yellow, the insects remain in those eggs—not yet hatched. The eggs hatch and release a nymph. This newborn nymph looks like an adult head louse but smaller. Eventually, every nymph develops into an adult louse.
People often confuse nits with dandruff, small scalp scabs, or hair product residue. While both nits and dandruff lead to excess scratching accompanied with a constant feeling of itchiness, dandruff is typically caused by an oily scalp that results in a fungal infection. And even if you don’t suffer from dandruff, a dry scalp or hair product buildup sometimes also creates a flaky condition that resembles dandruff and can be mistaken for lice.
The medical community labels dandruff seborrheic dermatitis. Dermatologists don’t deem dandruff a disease, but rather a skin condition. They find no connection between dandruff and poor hygiene, but relay that its visibility increases if a person does wash their hair often. The untrained eye will find it challenging to differentiate head lice from dandruff. But there some key differences between the two help us to make the distinction
Unlike with nits, people can easily shake off flakes from dandruff. Unhatched eggs remain very close to the scalp, while dandruff anywhere in the hair—which just happens to include the scalp. Hatched eggs may also appear further from the scalp than dandruff.
You should also take note of color, as it represents a critical difference between dandruff & lice. Dandruff typically appears white, while nits can be yellow, tan, or brown. But note that lice tend to look lighter in blonde hair and darker in brunettes.
Treating dandruff can be as easy changing your shampooing habits. There are also several home remedies including using apple cider vinegar, tea tree oil, or aloe vera. In extreme cases, see your dermatologist for more options.
While head lice are very small, they are visible to the human eye. They vary in color and can be brown, dark grey, or white. Adult lice usually grow to 2mm to 3mm in length. A little less than half the height of a penny, a louse isn’t microscopic and can be seen with our bare eyes—if you know what to look for.
Despite lice and nits being visible to us in the technical sense, keep in mind that you won’t spot the stealthy nit—or lice egg—as easily. Typically up to 0.8mm long, miniscule nits escape our sight more easily, and detecting them can be challenging.
Adult lice also avoid light and crawl quickly, making them difficult to spot as well. If you want to see lice with the human eye, it helps to part the hair and use a magnifying glass.
Since the parasitic head louse avoids us sneakily, you’re likely thinking: can I look for lice bites instead? Well, this might reveal their presence to you depending on your biology. But, it’s worth a shot. You may be able to spot the small injury lice leave behind if you know what to look for.
I’ll get into more detail but I can sum it up in 3 points:
You won’t see the bites themselves, as they’re miniscule and nearly impossible to spot. Head lice, however, deposit saliva into your scalp when feeding on you. These saliva deposits lead to an allergic reaction visible on the skin. Depending on your biology, these vary in size. They usually present as small, reddish spots. These spots may be more irritated, therefore more visible, in those with reactive or sensitive skin.
As much as we know that scratching won’t benefit us, that doesn’t stop us from striving to ease the itchy sensation that results from a lice infestation. We scratch, whether we should or shouldn’t. This scratching causes sores on the bitten area. These sores will increase the redness and irritation, often becoming infected and exacerbating the problem further.
Wondering if head lice are to blame for your itchy scalp can be nearly as irritating as knowing you have lice. If your child has a note from the school nurse about an infestation at school or you’ve seen a louse on your head, you’ll want to check for confirmation of an outbreak.
Since children are more likely to contract lice, let’s talk about screening them. You’ll more easily spot the signs of lice on your child’s head than you will on your own head.
Children contract lice far more frequently than adults do. Up to 12 million children get head lice every year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Most pick up lice from playmates and classmates, so avoiding an infestation from these pests can be a challenge.
To look for lice on your child’s head, it helps if your child sits under a bright light. Start by searching close to the scalp for little insects or eggs (nits). Part the hair with a fine-tooth comb from top to bottom and side to side. Pay close attention to the areas behind the ears and at the nape of the neck. These warm areas attract lice, who prefer to burrow in a warm environment.
Consider lice’s affinity for warmth when checking your child for lice. If your son or daughter has long hair or typically wears it in a bun or ponytail, the nits may be in the area where the ponytail gathers since it’s the warmest.
This do-it-yourself method often takes hours, and it’s easy to miss nits or adult lice. To fully assure the results of your screening or simply have it performed more effectively and efficiently, seek treatment from a professional.
Though head lice usually do not carry or spread disease, they must be treated promptly and thoroughly as they will not go away on their own. The inflamed bites or infected sores will pop up more quickly than they disappear as the critters continue to reproduce. At Lice Troopers, we understand how difficult dealing with an infestation can be for your family. Our experienced lice removal technicians screen your family for lice and, if necessary, provide effective treatments. Our products are non-toxic and all-natural.
You can reach us 24/7, and schedule your appointment to address the problem promptly.
If you’re looking for a cost-effective, time-saving way to get rid of head lice, look no further than Lice Troopers. Call us today at 1 (800) 403-5423 (LICE.)