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Can head Lice Cause Hair Loss? Will lice can make your hair fall out?

Updated: Nov 20, 2023

Discovering head lice can be a shock. But while these tiny parasites can make your scalp itchy, they don’t directly cause hair loss. Causes of hair loss may include stress, extreme scratching, or a lice allergy.

Key Takeaways:

  • Head lice don't directly cause hair loss.

  • Secondary effects like scratching can lead to hair breakage.

  • Treating lice promptly can reduce the risk of hair loss.

can lice cause hair loss

Understanding Head Lice

Head lice are small parasites that live primarily on your scalp. They’re fond of warm places, like behind your ears and at the nape of your neck, and you may sometimes find them in your eyebrows and eyelashes. Lice need your hair to survive. After all, your hair is where they lay eggs to complete their life cycle. If a louse falls off its host — that’s you — it can only survive for 1 to 2 days.

To sum up, head lice don’t make your hair fall out simply by living on your head. However, it is possible to notice some temporary hair loss during a lice infestation or directly after you treat your scalp for head lice.

Secondary Hair Loss Due to Lice

Hair loss that occurs alongside a head lice infestation is called secondary hair loss. According to Dr. Leah Ansell, a board certified dermatologist from Rye, New York, this type of hair loss often results from your response to a head lice infestation.

“Lice themselves do not contribute to hair loss,” she explains. “It’s the secondary effects like scratching or the meticulous process of picking out nits from the hair shaft that can lead to hair breakage and hair loss.”

However, Ansell adds that in extremely rare cases, severe lice infestations may contribute to iron deficiency anemia, which could play a part in hair loss.

Effects of Scratching

Excessive scratching may do more than break your hair, notes Dr. Jodi LoGerfo, a board certified dermatologist from New York City. Scratching can cause inflammation and scarring, which can injure your hair at the follicles.

The inflammation and itching that happens with a lice infestation will begin to stop as soon as you treat the head lice. Any hair breakage or loss you experienced during the infestation will likely also stop.

Allergic Reactions and Hair Loss

LoGerfo says an allergic reaction may also cause hair loss with lice. An allergy to louse feces, saliva, or bites can trigger a rash. Any time your scalp is compromised in this way, you’re at risk of secondary infection, inflammation, and scarring — all of which could contribute to hair loss, according to LoGerfo.

Lice Treatments and Hair Health

Lice treatments don’t cause hair loss, say LoGerfo and Ansell. “There are several treatment options both over-the-counter and prescription to treat head lice,” LoGerfo explains. “Hair loss after treatment with these medications is unfounded. However, because of the nature of these medications, you can have irritation or sensitivity of the scalp as a result.”

The treatments may also cause hair to become dry and brittle, she adds, and you may experience some hair breakage when combining these treatments with the use of a fine-toothed comb to remove dead lice and eggs (nits).

Stress and Hair Loss

Ongoing stress from recurrent infestations may play a role in hair loss. According to Ansell, lice infestations can pose a major source of stress for some people. If that’s the case for you, you may experience telogen effluvium — the second most common type of hair loss — for a few months after getting rid of the lice, Ansell says.

Addressing Hair Loss

It’s natural to feel overwhelmed or dismayed when you notice hair falling out. But it may help to keep in mind that addressing the underlying cause often helps reverse hair loss. Remember, too, that hair loss doesn’t always pose a major cause for concern: The average person sheds between 50 hairs to 100 hairs every day.

A dermatologist can offer more support with determining whether you’re shedding or losing hair. They can recommend strategies for addressing your hair loss, including:

  • Styling hair loosely

  • Taking steps to minimize stress

  • Treating conditions of the scalp

  • Trying prescription medications

Hair Shedding vs. Hair Loss

It's essential to distinguish between hair shedding and hair loss. Hair shedding is a natural process, and your body will eventually replace the hair you shed with new hair. On the other hand, hair loss happens when something prevents your hair from growing as it typically would.

For a clearer understanding, consider the following:

  • Hair Shedding: Natural process where the body replaces shed hair with new hair.

  • Hair Loss: Occurs when hair growth is inhibited due to various reasons.

Consulting a Dermatologist

If you're concerned about hair loss or shedding, it's advisable to consult a dermatologist. These doctors have special training in diagnosing and treating hair, skin, and nail conditions. They can provide insights into whether you're experiencing hair shedding, hair loss, or both simultaneously. Moreover, they can recommend effective strategies for addressing your hair concerns, such as:

  • Styling hair loosely

  • Minimizing stress

  • Treating scalp conditions

  • Exploring prescription medications

does lice cause hair loss

Preventing Hair Loss at Home

If you're dealing with head lice, treating them promptly can alleviate the itching and secondary effects that indirectly cause hair loss. To further prevent hair loss at home, consider the following steps:

  • Avoid Scratching: Refrain from scratching or irritating your scalp.

  • Dry Naturally: Towel- or air-dry your hair instead of using a hair dryer.

  • Limit Brushing: Reduce the time spent brushing your hair. Allow your hair to partially dry before combing.

  • Use Low Heat: Use styling tools set to “low” or “medium” heat settings.

  • Limit Tight Styles: Avoid hairstyles that pull your hair, such as braids, ponytails, or cornrows.

  • Avoid Strong Products: Stay away from styling products that promise a “long-lasting hold.”

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Do lice treatments cause hair loss?

No, lice treatments do not directly cause hair loss. However, some treatments can make the hair dry and brittle, leading to potential breakage.

How long can lice survive off the scalp?

A louse can only survive for 1 to 2 days if it falls off its host.

Can stress from lice infestations lead to hair loss?

Yes, ongoing stress from recurrent lice infestations can contribute to hair loss. Stress-related hair loss might manifest a few months after getting rid of the lice.

Can lice make your hair fall out?

While lice are tiny parasites that live on the scalp, they don't directly make your hair fall. However, the itching and side effects from lice may result in excessive scratching, which can damage hair follicles and lead to hair falling out. Lice need hair to help shield them from discovery and provide warmth.

Can lice cause hair loss?

Yes, lice can cause hair loss, but it's often counterproductive for them. Lice need human blood for nutrition and typically stay close to the scalp for warmth and feed. The act of scratching due to an itchy scalp from lice and nits can lead to hair loss. It's essential to seek prompt lice removal to prevent long-term damage.

Does lice cause hair loss?

Lice, especially head lice, are types of parasites that prefer clean hair and lay six to eight eggs daily on the scalp. While they need hair to shield them and feed on blood from the scalp, they don't directly cause hair loss. However, untreated infestations and the side effects of some treatment options may lead to hair loss.

Does lice make your hair fall out?

Lice don't directly make your hair fall, but the human head's reaction to lice eggs and the itchiness they cause can. Scratching can harm hair follicles, leading to hair loss. Professional lice treatment services or visiting a salon specializing in lice treatment can help eliminate lice and reduce the risk of hair loss. Using brushes and combs designed for lice removal, like a nit comb, can also be beneficial. It's crucial to follow head lice prevention measures and be aware that lice may also be found in eyelash and eyebrow regions. The life cycle of a louse is about nine days, and during this time, they lay eggs in a shell on the human scalp. If hair is falling due to lice, it can grow back once the infestation is treated.

How do you treat a head lice infestation?

For a head lice infestation, several lice treatment options are available. Over-the-counter shampoos containing pesticides can be used, but in severe cases, a prescription medication might be necessary. It's essential to follow the instructions carefully and comb out the lice and nits using a specialized nit comb.

Is it possible for lice to cause bald spots on the scalp?

While lice cause hair thinning due to scratching, it's rare for them to cause complete bald spots. However, severe scratching can damage the hair follicle, leading to temporary hair loss. In severe cases, if left untreated, the constant itching and scratching might lead to sores and infections, which can further damage the follicle and result in bald patches, especially behind the ears.

Can you see lice eggs on the hair strand?

Yes, lice eggs, commonly referred to as nits, attach to the hair strand close to the scalp. They often appear as tiny white or yellowish dots. Unlike dandruff, they won't easily flake off since they contain a chemical that glues them to the hair.

Do lice bite the scalp?

Lice are parasites that feed on human blood. They bite the scalp to obtain this nutrition, leading to itching. The itching is not from the bite itself but from an allergic reaction to the louse's saliva.

Is it easier for lice to infest a bald head?

Lice prefer hair and scalp environments as it provides them with the necessary warmth and protection. A bald head doesn't offer the same environment for lice to lay their eggs or shield them. However, if there are strands of hair or small follicles, there's still a risk, albeit reduced.

Are there non-chemical treatments available for lice?

Yes, while many opt for shampoos and creams containing pesticides, there are non-chemical treatments available. Some people choose to remove lice manually using a comb, while others might opt for natural remedies. However, it's crucial to ensure the chosen method is effective in treating both the lice and their eggs.

Should I see a doctor for a lice infestation?

If over-the-counter treatments don't work, or if the scalp becomes sore or infected from scratching, it's essential to make an appointment with a healthcare professional. They can provide prescription treatments and answer any further questions about the infestation.

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