Can I tell I have nits by looking?

I hear it all the time, ‘I’ve had a good look’… When you first get head lice, you won’t see anything by looking…

When someone first ‘gets head lice’, they’re only ‘getting one louse’. This louse has been passed on from someone with a current head lice infestation or left behind on a shared brush or hat. If the louse is a mature adult, it will begin laying 4-8 eggs per day for the rest of its life (that may be a day but could a week!). How many eggs are laid by this first louse depends on how long its on the head; the louse may come off in the shower, be transferred to a family member by a hug or simply die (remember, an adult louse only lives for 10-12 days. See our information on the Life Cycle here). This new host will only be itchy for as long as the louse is on the head. The itchiness is caused by the louse feeding on blood, just like a mosquito.

At this point, many people start looking for the source of the itchiness and say, ‘I’ve had a good look and we don’t have nits’. But you’ll never see that first louse – it can move quickly around the head and away from where you’re looking and there’s millions of hairs for it to hide amongst! If the louse is only on the head for a few days, there may only be a few eggs, maybe a dozen but you’ll never see a dozen eggs amongst millions of hairs.

By the time head lice and nits are visible by looking, they’ve been there a few weeks at least (most commonly 3-4 weeks). My experience tells me that for every louse or nit you see, there are 10 more you don’t see!