Telling the Difference Between Lice and Dandruff

If you have found a living louse moving about your child’s head, then don’t panic. There are simple steps you can follow if you find your child has head lice. You can also use the following treatments:

If at-home treatments have not been successful, call your healthcare provider. They will be able to diagnose your condition and recommend the safest and most effective treatment.

If you’ve found yourself scratching your head lately, take a closer look. Dandruff will appear as white or yellow flakes of dry skin. Lice eggs, also known as nits, look like tiny yellow or white eggs in the shape of a teardrop. Adult lice are darker in color and about the size of a sesame seed.

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Scalp lice infestation tends to occur predominately at the nape of the neck and may demonstrate immature lice (called “nits”) attached to hair shafts approximately 1-2 cm from the scalp. Mature forms of lice (3-5 mm in length, resembling a mobile sesame seed) may be observed moving over the scalp surface.

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It is not always possible to prevent lice, but you can reduce your chances of getting them by taking precautions. Discourage your children from having hair-to-hair contact while playing with their friends and avoid sharing hair brushes or hats.

Dandruff affects the scalp and not the hair itself. Looking closely, you will see white or yellow flakes coming from the scalp; these flakes then fall off easily.

Lice are parasitic insects with six legs and are usually tan, brown, or black. Their eggs look like teardrop-shaped eggs that are white or yellow in color. They are found attached to the hair shaft close to the scalp.

Telling the Difference Between Lice and Dandruff

Seborrheic dermatitis (dandruff) is a chronic condition in which skin on the scalp flakes and sheds. Dandruff is not contagious. Sunlight exposure and stress reduction can improve the symptoms and signs of dandruff.

To check for lice and dandruff, start by parting the hair and examining the scalp. When you have dandruff, your scalp will appear either very oily or very dry. The flakes will be coming from the scalp and are easily brushed away.

Dandruff (seborrhea) is a skin disorder that results from neither too much moisture nor too much oil. Dandruff can be treated with shampoos that contain tar, salicylic acid, zinc, selenium sulfide, or ketoconazole.

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Treatment for lice consists of the application of over-the-counter shampoos that contain either permethrin 1% (Nix, Rid, A200) or pyrethrin (Pronto). The former agent is generally used in that it kills both nits and adult lice whereas the latter is only lethal against lice (but not nits). In addition, permethrin products continue to be effective for several days after the shampoo is washed out. A repeat shampoo is recommended for both agents seven to 10 days after the first application. A prescription shampoo (ivermectin [Sklice]) is available if the above over-the-counter measures are not effective. Nit removal from hair shafts using a fine-toothed comb is worthwhile. Combs used to remove fleas from dogs and cats work well. All potential contact items (combs, caps, etc.) should be washed in water between 120-140 degrees. All other fomites (sofa cushions, pillows, towels, etc.) should be thoroughly vacuumed. The CDC recommends that all family members be screened for lice infestation and treated if demonstrated to be infected. Those not infected do not need to be treated.

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Lice and dandruff are two things that have been confused with each other for a long time. However, they are very different. They have different causes, risk factors, appearance, location and treatment.

Some common home remedies for lice treatment involve coating the scalp with heavy, oily food like mayonnaise, olive oil, butter, or margarine as a way to suffocate the lice. These treatments have not been proven effective and are not recommended.

Lice are caused by an infestation of parasitic insects, while dandruff is caused by a yeast that grows on everyone’s skin called malassezia and inflammation.

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Sometimes dandruff flakes can be confused as nits, and vice versa. The way to tell the difference between nits and dandruff is that dandruff is much more easily removed from the hair, whereas nits are glued to the hair shaft. If you can remove the white speck easily then it is dry skin (dandruff), if not, it could be a nit.

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While both conditions can make your skin crawl, they are usually effectively treated at home. Invest in a medicated shampoo, and talk with your healthcare provider before treating young children.

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