During a visual examination for
head lice, the hair on the head is parted with the fingers so that the scalp
can be seen. You or the doctor uses a louse comb and looks for tiny live
3 mm (0.12 in.) to
4 mm (0.16 in.) long, or the
size of a sesame seed]. If you are checking your child or someone else for
lice, it may be helpful to use a hand-held magnifying glass or have another
person help you. The doctor may use a special light called a Wood's light in a
darkened room to see the lice better.
Lice move quickly to avoid light, so they
may be difficult to see.
Eggs (nits) are small and white or light
brown. They are usually found on the hair shaft close to the scalp. They do not
slide up and down the hair shaft.
If eggs are found farther from
the scalp, the person may have been infested with lice for some time. If the
eggs have already hatched, the empty egg cases may appear white.
Pubic lice may look like yellowish brown or grey
specks or small scabs. They are smaller than head lice [about
1 mm (0.04 in.) to
2 mm (0.08 in.) long] and are
wider than they are long.
Body lice and their eggs may be seen in
the seams of clothing. They are usually not found on the body, although there
may be small, red bumps on the skin where the lice have bitten. The lice look
like large head lice and may be up to
4 mm (0.16 in.) long.
Why It Is Done
People with itching in areas of the
body that are commonly infested with lice-the scalp, pubic area, or armpits-or
people who have close contact with a person who has lice should do a self-examination
or have someone help them look for lice and eggs.
Seeing lice or their eggs is enough to
diagnose a lice infestation. Treatment is always needed to get rid of the
What To Think About
People who have
pubic lice are strongly encouraged to seek testing for other sexually
ByHealthwise Staff Primary Medical ReviewerJohn Pope, MD - Pediatrics Brian D. O'Brien, MD - Internal Medicine Kathleen Romito, MD - Family Medicine Specialist Medical ReviewerSusan C. Kim, MD - Pediatrics