November 18, 2023

What Happens If You Let Head Lice Go Untreated For Too Long?

Most parents know that kids can get head lice (pediculus humanus capitis) and they must treat them immediately to prevent re-infestation. What many people don't realize is that if you let lice go untreated for too long it can lead to serious complications such as scalp infection.

Lice are tiny parasites that love to hang out close to the scalp and feed off of the blood of your hair follicles. They can be difficult to see since they are small and usually appear white or grayish in color. Often they are mistaken for dandruff or residues from shampoo. The only way to tell if someone has lice is by carefully looking at their hair and scalp under bright light, such as full sunlight or a magnifying glass.

Lice cannot survive away from the head but they can quickly re-infest their host if they come in contact with a dirty or wet hairbrush, comb, towel, pillowcase, hat, or clothing that has been in contact with an infected head. They also can re-infest themselves if they come into direct head-to-head contact with another infected person.

The most obvious symptom of an infestation is itching which is caused by the saliva of the louse and can become very intense. Itching can lead to secondary infections on the scalp from scratching, as bacteria enter the small cuts and abrasions created. In addition, the constant itching can disrupt sleep, causing insomnia. Finally, if left untreated a lice infestation can cause anemia as the louse harvests blood from your scalp.

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