What Do Lice Look Like?

If you are looking at this article chances are you suspect someone in the family has head lice, it is important to know what the head lice look like so that you can begin lice treatment.

Head lice are tiny insects about the size of a sesame seed, with six legs that cling to the hairs shafts.

Their colour can be brown, white or gray.

Head lice feed on human blood from the scalp.

Head lice lay their eggs close to the scalp on the hair shafts, the head lice eggs are very small, glued in place with a substance they produce to keep the eggs secure, eggs are often called nits.

Who is most commonly affected?

Children from a young age can be affected, head lice are picked up in daycare, preschool and elementary school. Young children often play closely together and the head lice are spread through head to head contact.

Young children often share hairbrushes and hats, this sharing can transfer the head lice from one head to another.

Head lice can survive for a while away from the scalp, head lice cannot jump or fly but can crawl onto a new host.

How can you tell if someone has lice?

How to check for lice, head lice cause irritation, part through the hair and look carefully at the scalp and your child’s hair.

Someone with a head lice infestation may be itchy, scratching the scalp frequently. The lice bites are itchy due to a reaction to the saliva left behind by the head louse.

The best way to decide if someone has lice is if you spot live lice on the head.

What can be mistaken for a head lice infestation?

Sometimes head lice and eggs can be mistaken for dandruff flakes, sand, ants, aphids, and flakes of hairspray.

Can lice be seen with the human eye?

Although head lice are only about the size of a sesame seed, adult lice can be seen with the naked eye.

The adult head louse can be gray, brown or white, so be on the lookout for insects this colour.

To spot head lice and nits look closely in the hair, under bright light if you can. You are most likely to find an adult louse and lice eggs behind the ears or at the base of the hairline at the back of the neck.

Nits look like tiny specks that are oval in shape attached to hair shafts close to the scalp. If you try to remove them by hand you will find it difficult they just will not come off.

Wet combing will help in detecting head lice, as it slows down their movements. If it helps use a magnifying glass when looking at family members heads.

How do I treat head lice and lice eggs?

It is not very nice to find something moving around in your child’s hair, do not worry because it is possible to treat lice.

To get rid of adult lice and nits you have to treat them, they will not go on their own, so long as there is a blood supply and warmth from the hairs on the head lice will stay!

Let your child’s school know that other kids may be infected, whether it is daycare or preschool, if they know about the head lice infestation they can then let the parents know, so then the parents can get a lice treatment, otherwise, the head lice may return if someone in the class is unaware.

Every family member should be treated at the same time.

Over the counter head lice, treatments can be bought, some are not suitable for young children so always check first. Most kill lice but not the nits, always follow the instructions carefully.

If you are unsure if your child has head lice you can seek advice, diagnosis or treatment from a professional. A doctor may be able to prescribe a medicated shampoo.

Do not treat pets with pesticides, it can be harmful to them, and lice do not live on pets.

Lice Symptoms

The most common symptom of lice is itchy skin. Lice eggs are also called nits. These appear at the follicles and are hard to get through. Head lice can cause an itchy scalp but also cause other skin disorders like dandruff, eczema or allergies to shampoo and other products.

The lice may also be treated by a variety of antibiotics as well as prescription medicines.

Let us start with the life cycle of the head louse, the life cycle begins with the egg, the eggs hatch after six to nine days into a nymph,( baby lice), when they hatch they leave the shell still fixed to the hair shaft. The nymphs mature to become an adult head louse after 1-2 weeks. Then they will start reproducing. Peer-reviewed studies

An adult head louse can live for around 30 days in total. An adult louse will feed on blood from the scalp many times a day.

A louse feeding on human blood can make people feel irritable, this is where the term feeling lousy comes from.

You might feel a crawling sensation on your scalp as the live lice move.

An allergic reaction

Some people with sensitive skin may have a reaction to louse faeces or saliva. Keep a lookout for swollen lymph nodes on the back or front of the neck. Seek professional medical advice if you notice this.

Advice diagnosis or treatment of an allergic reaction can be sought from a doctor.

How can I prevent head lice?

  • It is always good advice to launder bed linens at a high temperature to kill off any stray louse on them. Tumble dry on high heat to be extra sure they have died.
  • Do the same with clothing including hats and scarves and any other washable personal belongings.
  • Vacuum furnishings to remove any hairs with eggs attached to them. Dispose of the vacuum bag securely.
  • A doctor can provide medical advice if the problem continues.
  • Make a visual inspection of the head regularly ideally 3 times a week, the quicker treatment is given the better.
  • Children with long hair should have it tied up this will help stop a louse from passing over to a new host.
  • Try to teach your children not to come in close personal contact with other children.

Natural remedies

Before using any essential oils we should mention that they can cause allergic reactions and are not approved by the U.S Food and Drug Administration.

Nits and lice have trouble sticking to the hairs shaft if a greasy item is applied to the hairs, mayonnaise and olive oil, white vinegar, are good for this.

White vinegar is thought to break down the sticky substance attaching the nits to the hairs also tea tree oil is said to be good for this too.

Apply one of the above thickly to the infected head and leave covered in a shower cap preferably overnight if you can. Wash out until all the residue has gone.

Comb the hair to get rid of lice and eggs

For this louse, treatment use a fine-tooth comb on wet hair to remove head lice and eggs from the hair. Comb close to the child’s scalp.

Wipe the comb after every comb through and wash in soapy water to remove and kill any louse you find.

You will find this easier to do on short hair, long hair will be more time-consuming. Short will take 10 minutes, long 30 minutes and curly hair the same time as long hair.

Continue combing every 3 – 4 days after the last live louse was seen.

This method takes time and a lot of patience, you cannot miss anything as one head louse can reproduce, or an egg can hatch and it starts all over again.

You may want to use this treatment after a chemical head louse treatment to catch any live lice and eggs that have not died.

Head lice myths

A head louse does not just like dirty hair, they are happy in clean hair also, it is not a sign of poor hygiene. So they are not just attracted to poor people it does not matter if you are rich or poor! Dirty or clean they are not fussed.

A head louse can survive for hours in water so no matter how clean you are you cannot wash the head lice away.

Not a myth

Something that is not a myth is that a head louse does not spread infectious diseases, this is from the centers for disease control and prevention. Thank goodness!

Super lice are a myth

Some people believe there is a super louse, that is immune to all treatments, it is more likely that the treatment has not been done correctly, follow all instructions to the letter to avoid wasting time and money.

There is also a good chance your child has been infected again. Remember adult head lice spread easily and affect people from all walks of life.

And finally,

We hope you have found the information in this article, helpful about what do head lice look like? If you have any questions then please feel free to drop us an email we do our best to respond as quickly as possible.

Why not take a look at the rest of our website, there are lots of useful tips and advice on pests.

Good luck!

Ronald has 25 years of pest control experience under his belt. He scrutinizes each pest control method, product and process. 

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