How To Identify a Head Louse

Head lice are prevalent among school-aged children. The largest reason for this is that the insects spread easily within groups of people or among those who have frequent close contact. Although lice cannot jump or fly, they can spread in a myriad of other ways. When infested articles like car seats, backs of chairs, pillows, hair accessories, combs, brushes and hats are shared, head lice quickly spread.

Lice and Nits

Lice are also known as Pediculosis. These bugs are minute, approximately the size of a sesame seed. They are grayish-white in color and have six legs. Lice usually appear darker on persons with dark hair and lighter on blonde hair. This can make them extremely difficult to see without peering closely at someone's head. Nits are the eggs laid by lice. People often mistake these for dandruff or dried droplets of hair spray. Nits are oval and white in appearance and feel hard to the touch.

Adult lice lay these eggs close to the scalp and secure them to the hair shaft with a natural substance reminiscent of glue. One of the gravest difficulties associated with lice is actually identifying them. The insects go largely unnoticed by one who has lice, and when left untreated, this condition can become an epidemic.

Not only are head lice more difficult to eliminate when left to multiply, but they become increasingly more uncomfortable for the infested individual.

Telltale Signs of Head Lice

When it is suspected that a person has head lice, one must remember to not necessarily look only for the insects themselves. Instead, other readily-visible signs can help make this determination. For example, nits are commonly much easier to see than the insects. One louse can lay hundreds of eggs in a 30-day cycle, and these serve as telltale signs of a lice infestation. However, even these can be difficult to spot and may be mistaken for another condition. Other indicators of lice include the following:

  • Repeated itching behind the ears and near the back of the neck or the nape. Lice feed on human blood obtained through the scalp. Their bites often result in skin irritation and severe itching. If the skin becomes broken from ongoing scratching, infection may result.
  • Prominent signs of itching such as red lines, skin redness and fingernail scratches visible on the scalp. These will be easy to see especially near the neck.
  • Red rashes on the scalp, which take place in the form of tiny raised bumps. These occur because of lice bites.
  • Black specs on the collar or pillow that result from louse feces.

Another recommended method of finding head lice is to separate the hair all the way down the scalp. Look for moving lice, because they are known to evade light and hide in the dark contours of hair. This is one reason that females tend to attract lice more often than males.

Doctors suggest using a special lice comb, which can be purchased from pharmacies and supermarkets, to detect lice. Persons are instructed to wash their hair and comb through the tangles with a traditional comb while still damp. They can then apply ordinary conditioner and divide the hair into separate sections. Each section should be carefully combed through using the lice comb. Start at the scalp and intermittently wipe the comb on a tissue to closely look for live lice. This is a preferred method to combing through dry hair because lice stay very still when the hair is wet. They can thus be combed out with greater ease.

Of the methods described above, pediatricians generally recommend using the comb with wet hair. While this task is seemingly tedious, it also offers the best indication of whether or not live lice are present. Once that determination is made, a course of treatment can be decided.


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