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Head Lice Frequently Asked Questions

Head Lice Frequently Asked Questions
Created on 
December 16, 2021
Updated on 
June 14, 2023

If you’re reading this, you’re probably dealing with head lice. You’re not alone: head lice are one of the most common childhood diseases in the US. Humans have been picking these tiny insects off each other for millennia; it’s only a few decades we've had pesticides to treat them.

Unfortunately, head lice have evolved to be immune to common chemicals. This makes treatment harder, which means head lice spread more. Your school probably dropped their no nit policy when too many kids were missing too much school.

Educating yourself can be valuable in avoiding or getting rid of an infestation. But treating lice is challenging and unpleasant, and there is no shame in outsourcing treatment to a lice removal service.

What Are Lice?

Head lice are male and female parasites that live on the head of the infested human host. Their scientific name is Pediculus humanus capitis, and an infection is technically called "pediculosis". You might also hear the Hawaiian term "ukus". Transmission of a lice infestation is usually spread directly from person-to-person. Adult head lice don't jump or fly, and it's rare to catch an infection from other items like pillows or towels. Lice bite the skin to feed on human blood. The allergic reaction to these bug bites causes itching and excessive scratching, the most common symptoms of head lice.

What Are the 3 Types of Lice?

    There are 3 different types of lice that infest humans and feed on human blood.
  • The common head louse affects only human head hair, and mainly children;
  • Pubic lice (a.k.a. "crabs") infest human body hair, and mainly adults. Aside from pubic hair, they can also live in eyebrows, eyelashes, chest hair, facial hair, and sometimes coarser head hair. If there are live lice anywhere other than head hair, they're probably pubic lice, even if they're on the head too;
  • can bite any body part, but you're more likely to find them in clothing, bed clothes, or upholstered furniture where they reproduce.
These are 3 totally different issues, and one will never become another.

Where Do Lice Originate From?

There are many unique species of lice, and each type of louse has evolved an affinity for a particular type of furry or feathered animals. But where do lice come from that affect humans? The types of lice that infest humans likely evolved from primate lice millions of years ago, much like viruses and bacteria can mutate and jump from infected animals to humans living in close proximity. Head lice and body lice are both subspecies of Pediculus humanus. The two subspecies split off from each other tens of thousands of years ago, when humans started wearing clothing.

head lice

What Is Lice Life Cycle?

The louse lifespan is about 30 days, during which each adult female louse can lay eggs at a rate of up to 10 per day. The baby lice that hatch from the eggs 7-10 days later are called nymphs. Each nymph will molt 3 times over the next week, as they become adult lice. Head lice live their entire lifecycle on the human scalp. Empty nits will remain attached to the hair with nit glue until deliberate manual removal is done.

Read more in “How Do Lice Reproduce?”.

Are Head Lice More Active at Night?

The only defense head lice have is hiding. To do this, they avoid light exposure, and are mainly active in the dark. Parents inspecting household members usually part the hair and use a bright light and magnifying glass, but by the time the light hits the scalp, the lice have scattered.

What Does Lice Look Like?

It's essential to know what head lice look like, how to tell the difference between head lice and head lice eggs (nits), and how nits look different from other artifacts that occur on the head. You'll see head lice eggs on your child before you see actual head lice. A head louse egg shell is clear and poppy seed-sized, with brownish nits developing inside the eggs. Head lice are grayish white tiny insects with six legs, about as big as a sesame seed.

Read more in “What Do Lice Look Like Up Close And How To Identify Them”.

head lice faq

What Can Be Mistaken for Lice?

Dandruff, hair products, and debris are often mistaken for head lice and nits (eggs). Less commonly, itching and redness may be due to skin health conditions like psoriasis, eczema, or allergies. Ironically, some products people apply to their hair to treat head lice can cause strange scalp reactions that mimic lice, like DEC plugs and hair casts (a.k.a. pseudonits). Bugs that look like lice but aren’t include bed bugs, scabies, and fleas. Because they're tiny, head checks with a magnifying glass might help you detect the presence of nits, but using nit combs will reveal nits and head lice earlier then the naked eye.

Where Do You Get Lice From?

It's challenging to identify precisely where you contracted head lice. Head lice transmission is most commonly done through head contact: hugs, childlike play, contact sports, and overcrowded spaces. The presence of any infestation on any household members will usually lead to transmission to entire families. Aside from direct contact, high-risk activities for spreading head lice include sharing combs, brushes, hats, or clothing, or sharing a seat or bed recently occupied by an infested individual. There's not much risk of head lice spread from other inanimate objects, pets, or just entering schools or a house.

Signs You Have Lice

Itching is one of the most common head lice symptoms parents should watch for. Another is rash or sores on the head, ears, and neck. Children may feel the lice moving in their hair or tickling their ears at night, which can lead to irritability and insomnia, affecting overall health. Many people infested with head lice are asymptomatic, and diagnosis is done by finding nits attached to the hair shafts. If you have been in contact with an infested person, it's a bad idea to wait for symptoms to check for nits.

head to head contact

How to Check for Lice?

Head checks after exposure are crucial, as infested individuals may not have symptoms for the first 3 weeks! Wondering how to check for lice on yourself without a comb? Inspect each hair shaft within a 1/4" of the scalp for nits, especially behind the ears and nape of the neck. Nits are too undeveloped to see with the naked eye for the first several days. Using nit combs to comb through each section of hair from root to tip will identify nits before you can see them. You should expect this type of thorough nit comb check for every family member including parents when hiring a lice professional.

Can You Have Just One Lice in Your Hair?

Technically, yes, but don't count on it. If you see even 1 adult louse in your hair, start checking heads for nits. Keep checking for 2 weeks. If it was an adult female louse, nits should become visible within 2 weeks.

Is Lice Contagious?

How contagious is lice? Live lice are highly contagious and spread quickly through families and the classroom; anywhere with regular head-to-head contact. When there's a case in the house, prevention is wise to avoid transmission and additional infestations. Avoid head to head contact and sharing combs, brushes, hats, etc. until all infestations are treated. The nits are not contagious. There's no need to worry about a harmless detached nit after combing it off the hair shaft. Nits are ineffective at hatching into viable nymphs when not on a human hair shaft attached to a human head.

lice eggs

How Does Lice Spread?

There are a number of ways someone may spread head lice, but by far the #1 way is direct contact with the head hair of an infested person. These tiny insects can't jump or fly, so direct contact with an infested person is generally required for head lice to spread. Less common ways include sharing personal items, like clothes, combs, brushes, and hats. Washing or drying clothing on hot cycle kills lice, but treating lice on people is more challenging. No clue where you were exposed? It's common to spread lice before you realize you're infested, due to delayed symptoms.

Are Lice Fast?

A head louse moves quickly through hair using specialized claws that grab each hair shaft. So parents notice nits before adult lice. Outside hair, head lice are slow; their six legs are tiny, claws don't help on surfaces other than head hair, and they can't fly.

How Long Can Lice Live Without a Host?

A louse will die within a couple days of falling off a human host. Separating lice from humans will kill lice more effectively than any chemical. If you're wondering how to clean house after lice, you're worrying about the wrong things. LiceDoctors leaves you with simple treatment instructions to kill lice in the house through protecting the hair, rather than pesticides.

adult lice

Are Lice Attracted to Certain Hair Types?

Unless you are completely bald, you are susceptible to getting head lice. Head lice spread, survive, and lay eggs easier in human hair that is straight/wavy, long, thick, and frequently-washed than in coarse, thin, or short hair, or hair with product or oil in it, which is why some people wonder can African Americans get lice, or do boys get head lice? While less common, it's absolutely possible. When schools check for lice eggs, they should check these students, too, and if they have one head louse or egg, they also need treatment.

Who Is at Risk of Getting Lice?

Who can get lice? Anyone with head hair. Who gets lice most often? Those most likely to need treatment for head lice and eggs are families with school-aged children. Children have the most direct contact with each other and parents. Families touch frequently, and share brushes, combs, clothing, and hats. While adult men, teenage boys, babies, and African Americans tend to get lice and eggs less frequently, no person is immune.

What Are Alternative Natural Lice Remedies?

There are many alternative options for head lice treatment, of varying efficacy and health risk.

The following home remedies for lice may be more effective than prescription treatments, but only if performed correctly.

  • Wet combing eggs with nit combs;
  • Nitpicking eggs by hand;
  • Hair masques of olive oil, mayonnaise, or lotion;
  • Diluted essential oils.
There's no magic bullet that gets rid of lice all by itself. Even the most effective treatment techniques must be combined in a specific manner. Consulting a lice professional can make the difference between treatment being effective or failing.

head lice spread

How to Prevent Lice?

    Head lice prevention is better than treatment. If you're at risk of getting head lice because of a school outbreak, these habits lower your odds:
  • Avoid direct head-to-head contact with others;
  • Have a short or tied-back hairstyle that minimizes contact area for lice to grab onto;
  • Keep hair coated with non-chemical lice-repellent spray, hair gel, hairspray, oils, or other product;
  • Educate children on head lice: help them avoid “high risk” situations;
  • Check heads regularly during the school year. Better to catch it early, before head lice spread to every child;
  • Use an overnight hair masque every couple weeks;
  • Wash or dry laundry on hot cycle.

What Do Lice Feed On?

Head lice only eat human blood, and start biting the infested person as soon as they hatch. They have specialized mouth parts for piercing human skin and sucking blood, similar to mosquitoes and fleas. They need to feed several times per night to survive, and will soon be dead without a blood meal from a person. LiceDoctors will show you how to protect the head hair, so that cleaning the house, upholstered furniture treatment spray, and laundering towels, pillows, stuffed animals, and clothing in hot water is unnecessary.

Are Lice Found Only on the Scalp?

Head lice want to live their entire life cycle on a human scalp, but is lice only on the scalp? To them, getting off a person is like hiking the desert with no water: they know they'll die. Occasionally, an adult louse might fall off an infested person, landing in their eyebrows, beard, or clothing. But they only get off of a scalp on purpose if they smell another person nearby. An infested person may get bitten wherever head hair touches, like ears, neck, back, and chest. But if bites are only on the body and not the scalp, that's not a head lice infestation, and head lice treatment won't help.

spreading head lice

What Is Super Lice?

Super lice are just the same old species of head lice that has mutated genetically over generations to be genetically resistant to commonly used pesticides. Similar to antibiotic-resistant bacteria, these infestations are harder to treat because some of the lice will survive pesticide treatment. Unfortunately, recent studies show that almost all cases of lice in the US have some chemical resistance. While some prescription treatments will kill lice with genetic resistance better than over the counter chemicals, nit removal is still required after any lice treatment.

Can Pets Get Lice?

Remember, there are many species of "lice." Dogs and cats can get infested with their own species of lice that cannot really spread to a person. Human head lice can't survive long on pets (just like they can't on items like clothing or brushes), and generally can't lay nits on them that would hatch into a nymph and survive without feeding immediately on human blood. Even if they have hair instead of fur, pets are safe from human head lice.

Can Head Lice Carry Disease?

An infestation of head lice is itself a disease; the diagnosis is pediculosis capitis. Fortunately, unlike body lice, head lice are not vectors for other disease. If left untreated, the scratching from severe itching due to allergic reaction may lead to skin infections. Children with very severe untreated infestations have been known to develop anemia, since head lice feed on human blood. This is extremely rare, though.

attached to the hair

What Happens if You Have Lice for Too Long?

The average infested person won't notice symptoms of head lice like itching until the eggs hatch and the live lice start biting, weeks after an infestation is contracted. Proper treatment should begin as soon as possible after discovering a person is infested. Complications of an untreated severe head lice infestation can include the following.
  • Superficial bacterial infections;
  • Hair loss or matting;
  • Insomnia, and all the health complications that go along with insomnia;
  • Anemia.
If you've been doing head lice treatment and it keeps coming back, consult a professional. Repetitive chemical treatments may have unintended side effects on the health of your child.

Can Lice Kill You?

Head lice infestations can't transmit lethal disease. Itching may spread infections but can head lice kill you? Death from head lice infestation would only occur in cases of extreme neglect, from secondary health problems.

How to Calculate How Long You Have Had Lice?

    Every head lice infestation is different. Here's a guideline for how long you have had head lice.
  • Week 1: no symptoms, no visible nits, possibly visible bugs;
  • Week 2: no symptoms, a few visible nits, possibly visible bugs;
  • Week 3-4: mild or no symptoms, several visible nits, sometimes visible nymphs;
  • Weeks 5-6: mild-moderate or no symptoms, many visible nits, visible bugs;
  • Weeks 7+: mild-severe or no symptoms, many visible nits with potential hair matting, visible bugs.
Head lice at any stage requires treatment. It's a bad idea to delay treatment when you see only a little head lice evidence.

allergic reaction

Can Lice Go Away on Its Own?

Head lice and nits never go away on their own. If untreated, an infestation will get worse exponentially as the live lice multiply, since each adult female louse can lay nits at a rate of up to 10/day.

Do You Need to Stay at Home if You Have Lice?

According to the American Pediatrics Association, new chemical-resistant lice are so hard to successfully treat that too many kids were missing too much school due to no nits policies. They recommend children stay until the end of day, get treated that evening, and return to school the next day. Nits aren't contagious, so no nit policies are overkill. But DIY lice treatments may not kill lice 100%. Even if you've treated with over the counter treatment, it doesn't mean your children are not contagious.

If One Family Member Has Lice Should Everyone Be Treated?

Odds are, multiple family members have lice by the time symptoms of head lice appear. Head lice spread to new heads quickly, and everyone needs to be checked. Your LiceDoctors technician does special oiled comb-through checks that detect lice eggs before the head lice are symptomatic. OTC head lice treatments should never be used on someone who doesn't have live lice. They aren't for prevention, and overuse may contribute to more chemical resistance in future generations of head lice.

Do You Need to Clean House or School After Lice?

Parents are always concerned with cleaning their homes of head lice, however, head lice live on the head. They cannot survive long in personal items like hats, towels, brushes, combs, or stuffed animals. Head lice on the bed clothes, clothing, and towels are easily killed with hot water.

When you hire LiceDoctors, you don't need to worry about how to get rid of lice in your house.

If the head is properly treated and protected after treatment, head lice can't survive in the rest of the home.

How Long Does It Take To Get Rid of Lice?

Head lice treatment times vary from person to person. Whether you kill adult and nymph head lice with chemical treatments, a specialized medical device, or suffocation, you must remove nits. Head louse eggs (nits) can't wash off in hot water. Combing nits off the hair shafts is the time-consuming part of head lice treatments. Head lice treatment duration depends on nit comb quality, skill, hair length/thickness, and egg quantity. The average head louse-infested child treated by LiceDoctors takes an hour, but that varies.

Still Have Questions About Head Lice? Let Us Help!

Even some doctors and school nurses don't know everything about head lice FAQ. We too once obsessed about washing head lice- infested brushes, combs, clothing, hats in hot water, checked only children for nits, mistook nits for dandruff, and treated head lice with pesticide treatments that threatened our health. Now we spend all day helping people get rid of head lice and we have successfully treated cases ranging from a few nits to thousands of nits in the hair. We now know head lice mainly spread from infested person to person and natural treatment with just oil and combs can be effective while protecting health. Call LiceDoctors at 800-224-2537 for science-backed answers to your head lice FAQ, and if you need help with head lice treatments, book an appointment today!



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Created on 
April 15, 2022
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