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How to Diagnose Head Lice

graphic showing featureless humanoid looking through a giant magnifying glass

Updated on July 19, 2020

To confirm and eradicate a case of head lice requires patience, good tools, and the ability to find and identify lice and nits (eggs).

What Do Lice and Nits Look Like?

Adult head lice are 2–3 mm long, approximately the size of a sesame seed. They are brownish in color, have 6 legs, and are wingless. Head lice attach to the hair near the base of the hair shaft and lay eggs near the scalp. Head lice reside near the scalp so that they can have access to the blood which is their food source. Nits are translucent with a shell the encases a baby bug. The shell is hard and sticky.

How Do You Find Lice or Nits in the Hair?

It is easier to find nits than bugs; the bugs move quickly and are elusive. LiceDoctors has been treating families for over 20 years and following is our advice as to the best way to find and positively identify a nit (egg).

  • When the hair is dry, look for sticky, brownish nits and pull one from the hair and place it on a white paper towel or piece of paper. 
  • Or on wet hair, comb through the hair and pull out out what is in the hair and wipe on white paper towel.
  • If what you see is brown, round on one side and pointy on the other with an antenna, then you are looking at a nit. 
  • If it blends into the white background then it is a DEC plug (secretion from the oil glands) or a piece of dandruff.
  • If it is round and black, it is a piece of debris. 

lice and nits under magnification


How To Comb For Head Lice

close up image of hands running a fine toothed comb through auburn hair

  • Make sure you have a proper head lice comb (see above)
  • Have white paper towel ready
  • Daylight or good lighting
  • A magnifying lens may be usefull
  • Start combing in a parting in the middle in one side of the bangs right from the scalp
  • Pull the head lice comb meticulously along the scalp and all the way out to the tip of the tuft of hair
  • Wipe the head lice comb in the paper towel and check for head lice
  • Repeat the combing of the next tuft a little further from the bangs – wipe the head lice comb
  • Repeat all around the head and back again to make sure that all the hair has been combed thoroughly through, at least 3 times
  • Applying a conditioner before combing gives a 90% certainty of finding head lice, even if there are only a few head lice – 10 or less. However, the method does not give 100% certainty, so it is very important to repeat the process after a few days if you suspect an infestation.
  • Should you find live head lice, you must start a proper treatment programme with a head lice comb or a head lice product. Read more here

What To Do If You Find Lice

If you positively identify a case of head lice, you can attempt to treat on your own if you have time, patience, a high quality lice comb, and good eye sight. If you want to save yourself time and possibly aggravation, LiceDoctors is available to take the burden from you. Your lice technician will make it easy for you with in-home service whenever you want it. LiceDoctors treatments come with a full guarantee and are covered by HSA and FSA accounts and some insurance companies. Call LiceDoctors day or night at 813-438-2323.