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How Do You Tell the Difference Between Lice and Lice Eggs (Nits)?

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Updated on July 24, 2020

By Karen Sokoloff

If you look at the above picture of a paper towel, can you tell which are lice and which are nits (lice eggs)? In the hair it can be very challenging to seelice tips how to identify lice eggs nits bugs louse infested evidence of a head lice infestation. You need to know what you are looking at.

Often when technicians arrive at homes and speak to the parents, they are asked, “What do lice look like?” or “Why can’t I figure out what nits look like?” This is to be expected as most people dealing with a case of head lice have never had it before. How can you know what lice and nits look like in the hair?

Given that LiceDoctors has gotten rid of lice and nits in over 500,000 people, we definitely know the difference between lice and nits and we will explain what that in this blog with words and pictures.

What is the Appearance Of Head Lice?

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There are definite differences between lice and nits if you look at them carefully. Lice are little brown bugs with 6 legs and the adult ones are larger than a nit, which makes sense since the nit is the embryo, (called a nymph) encased in a shell. Above you see a closeup of a louse.  Notice that it has no wings and, therefore, to get around the bug must crawl on its six legs. The legs are short but the bug moves very quickly across the head. Test that out by shining a light on the head; it would be surprising if you actually see a louse. They are very good at moving stealthily and hiding in the hair so they make themselves hard to find.

Lice have claws that are built to grasp hair. They are the perfect size to grab hold of human hair. This is essential as they use the hair to climb up to the scalp. Lice are about 2-3 mm long.

According to Healthline, because lice camouflage they can appear different shades in order to match different hair colors.

They are very cagey; imagine the advantages that this chamaeleon- like trait provides these insects. They are small to begin with AND they blend in with the hair AND they scoot away quickly when you try to find them! Is it any wonder that it is very challenging for parents to conquer lice on your own?

What About Nits? How Do Nits Appear?

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Nits are oval with an antenna protruding from the front.  They come in varying sizes depending on their stage of development. Recently laid nits are quite immature which is why they are so small;  nits laid the day of inspection can be microscopic. It takes about 10 days until nits hatch and over that time, the nits get bigger until they reach the size of sesame seed. 

Nits have a hard shell and when a louse lays eggs, it glues those nits on the hair very close to scalp. If you were to slide your finger up and down the hair strand, you would feel a bump; that is the nit stuck on the hair. It takes a lot of effort to remove the nit from the hair; it will not dislodge easily. In fact, people worry about nits falling out of the hair and then reattaching themselves to another head. First of all, nits do not generally fall out of the hair. Secondly, if one were to fall out, it could not reattach. Nits also are not contagious as they do not move.

Sometimes people find white specks in their hair, which they confuse with nits. These are either dandruff if they flake off easily or are DEC plugs which are secretions from the oil glands that stick to the hair. The DEC plugs are often mistaken for nits by folks who are not experienced in lice removal. If you find a whitish oval stuck to the hair inches from the scalp, you are likely looking at a shell casing; the nit has already hatched and is now empty. 

“Nits are lice eggs. Nits are hard to see and are often confused with dandruff or hair-spray droplets. Nits are found firmly attached to the hair shaft. They are oval shaped, 2-3 mm in length and usually yellow to white in color. Nits take about a week to hatch.”


What Happens If Lice Are Not Treated?

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Whether you find lice or nits or both in your hair, they must be removed. Lice will not go away by themselves; the problem will only get worse with time. Sorry about the fairly gross picture above, but this is what happens if a case is left untreated for months, Lice live for a month during which they lay up 10 eggs a day. Each of those lice eggs lay up to 10 eggs daily as soon as they mature about 10 days after being laid. You can see how a louse can lay hundreds of eggs which in turn lay hundreds of eggs and within a month or so, you have many generations of lice and a full-on infestation. 

LiceDoctors Can Rescue Your Family from the Aggravation of Head Lice

If you find lice or nits, we will help you out. Call us anytime of the day, any day of the week. A lice expert will answer your questions and put you at ease immediately. She will send a lice expert to your home day or evening any day of the year—technicians are available all 365 days. We know that when you find lice you want the case eradicated yesterday so we will make a house on your schedule. LiceDoctors has successfully treated 500,000 clients and your technician will be pleased to take the burden of lice removal off your shoulders. All treatments are safe and guaranteed. Call today at 800-224-2537 for fast and total relief for head lice.

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