Insect bites and rashes are an almost endless source of concern. Is it a rash or a series of bites? What caused it? How do you effectively treat it? The questions all become more urgent if it’s itchy and/or if it’s on your child.
Excessive scratching can tear the skin and lead to infection, so you want to ease the itching and treat the problem fast. A patch of red, itchy bumps on the scalp and neck could have many causes, one of which is head lice. People often assume that if they don’t see lice insects, those red bumps must be something else, but lice aren’t always easy to find—especially early in an infestation. Lice bites can be one of the best ways to catch head lice early, if you can identify them.
And diagnosing lice bites is not that difficult once you know what to look for.
What are lice? 3 Main Types
Head lice are tiny, wingless insects that live on the human scalp and feed on human blood. They do not jump like fleas, and are only spread through close physical contact. Head lice lay eggs on hair follicles and a new generation hatches about every seven days.
Head lice is the most common type of lice, but there are two others.
For more details, check out, “Lice Symptoms, Causes, and Prevention” →
Pubic lice are commonly referred to as “crabs,” and live on the skin and hair in the pubic region. They can infest other areas of the body with coarse hair, but this is much less common.
Body lice feed on human blood, but they live in clothing and bedding. They often hide in creases and seams and move onto the body to feed. Body lice are easily removed with normal laundering.
What do lice bites look like?
Head, pubic, and body lice bites all present as small, red, raised spots. Lice bites themselves are very small, but your body’s allergic reaction makes them color and swell.
Several bites in close proximity can irritate the skin all around them, giving the appearance of one, big red patch. Scratching can cause sores and/or scabs to develop, and these can sometimes become infected by normal bacteria on the skin.
Lice bites are often hidden beneath the hair, but lice do sometimes wander down to the hairline at the back of the neck and behind the ears. If you see insect bites on the neck or hairline, take a moment to part the hair in sections and look for more bites on the scalp.
For more details, see “How to Check for Lice” →
Pubic lice and body lice bites appear the same. Red or pink itchy bumps around the pubic area could be lice. Small red bites on the body, especially if the individual is wearing dirty clothing or sleeping in dirty bedding, could be body lice.
Pictures of Head Lice Bites
If you’ve never seen head lice bites before, it can be hard to know for sure. Here are a few photos for reference.
Lice bites on neck
Lice bites on scalp and neck
Body lice bites
What does a lice bite feel like?
Lice bite to feed off of human blood. Most people don’t feel the actual bite, but the louse’s saliva causes an allergic reaction.
It may take up to four weeks after an infestation has begun to notice itching from lice bites.
Treating Lice and Lice Bites
The first step to treating lice bites is to get rid of the lice. One female head louse lays up to six eggs per day, and they hatch after about a week. Lice will not go away on their own, and they will continue to bite.
There are over-the-counter shampoos and creams that claim to kill head lice, although most of the lice now active in Western cultures have developed a resistance to the active ingredients in these treatments.
There are also many natural treatments for head lice that are just as effective as—or even more effective than—drug store shampoos. (And, unfortunately, a lot of old wives tales as well, so make sure you know which ones have been proven effective against lice.) The best natural options are the right essential oils and vapor treatments.
Both OTC treatments and natural treatments benefit from a thorough lice combing as well.
- Treating pubic lice — Pubic lice are more effectively treated with special, over-the-counter shampoos. You will still need to remove nits and stray lice with a lice comb or tweezers.
- Treating body lice — Body lice are easily treated by regular hygiene. Clothes and bedding should all be washed in hot water and the individual thoroughly bathed at least once per week.
After a lice treatment, the bites will still itch for a few days. There are several ways to treat the bites themselves and ease itching:
- A cold compress or ice pack can reduce swelling and temporarily ease itching.
- A low-dose allergy medication is usually sufficient to combat the allergic reaction your body has to lice bites.
- Witch hazel can be used as a natural astringent to soothe irritated skin and reduce swelling.
Be aware that there are other reasons the scalp may itch after a lice treatment. Some treatments dry out the scalp, leaving it flakey and itchy. Additionally, many people experience psychosomatic itching, which is why you may be scratching your scalp as you read about head lice … even if you don’t have them.
For a complete guide on getting rid of head lice fast, see “How to Get Rid of Head Lice” →
Lice Bite FAQ
A few other questions our experts commonly answer about louse bites:
Can head lice bite your body?
No. Head lice sometimes crawl down to the hairline behind the ears and onto the back of the neck, but they don’t venture much further from the scalp. If there are lice bites on other parts of the body, they are either from body lice or pubic lice.
What can be mistaken for head lice?
Other white objects or insects in the hair can be mistaken for head lice. Things commonly mistaken for head lice include dandruff, dried hair product, sand, and aphids. Most of these, however, are loose and easily comb away from the scalp or hair. Head lice, on the other hand, will strive to remain hidden when hair is parted, and nits are cemented very firmly to hair follicles.
How long do lice bites take to heal?
Lice bites generally heal in three to five days, but every situation is different. A few small bites will heal faster than a large patch of bites. Bites that have not been scratched too much will heal faster than those that have been aggressively scratched.
Are lice bites itchy?
Yes, lice bites are extremely itchy to most people because of an allergic reaction humans demonstrate to the lice saliva. One or two bites may not be noticeable, but as the lice spread and bite more the lice bite will begin to itch more.
Identifying and Treating Head Lice Bites
Red, itchy bumps on the scalp and neck could be several things, but lice bites are one of the most common. There’s nothing particularly unique about lice bites—they’re itchy red bumps like most bug bites—but knowing how to identify lice can help you determine if that’s what you’re dealing with.
If it is head lice, the first thing you need to do is contain the infestation and start an effective treatment. The Novokid dry vapor system is an all-natural, scientifically proven treatment that kills head lice and loosens nits for easier combing.
Once lice are treated and combed out, you can treat the bites and be itch-free!