How to Recognize Lice

Treating head lice can be an overwhelming experience, so it is helpful if you discover the infestation early before the lice have a chance to multiply and spread. Here is how to recognize a lice infestation so you can identify it quickly.

The most common head lice symptom is an itchy scalp. This is caused by the saliva of the louse which is left on the scalp in tiny lesions after a blood meal (yes, they feed on your blood). This feeding causes irritation and can lead to intense itching. Lice like to congregate at the nape of the neck and behind the ears where it is warm so watch for scratching low and on the back of the head.

Close inspection of the scalp can help with identifying head lice:

  • Look for live lice and small dark fragments of the louse feces. Head lice are about the size of a sesame seed and can move very fast. They appear clear until they feed on blood and then they will be darker in color.
  • Look for nits (lice eggs) and nit shells. Nits are very tiny, about half a millimeter in size, and can be confused with dandruff, dry scalp or hair spray. If they separate easily from the hair strand, they are not nits. Nits will remain firmly attached.

If head lice are left untreated, the infested person may be at risk for a secondary infection due to the scratching of the scalp with unclean hands. Very severe cases may cause swollen lymph glands.

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