Why Do Head Lice Itch?

Head lice are parasites that live off of the blood of their human hosts. They are incredibly annoying because they bite, and those bites can be very itchy. The itching could lead us to scratch the bites, and scratching to skin irritations, infections, and even psychological problems. But why do head lice itch in the first place?

1. Head lice itch because of head lice saliva

Itching is one of the most common symptoms of head lice infestations. It occurs primarily because of an allergic reaction to head lice saliva. When head lice bite you to feed on your blood, they inject some of their salivae into your body. Your body will treat these substances as foreign objects that need to be eliminated, triggering allergic reactions. The allergic reactions lead to itching.

The severity of the itching depends from person to person. Some can be extremely sensitive to head lice saliva, resulting in intense itching that could change their sleeping patterns and compromise their immune systems due to the lack of proper sleep. But some can also be extremely resistant to the saliva that they don’t even feel itching at all even on severe infestations.

2. Itching can be worsened by skin irritation

Itching is an undesirable feeling. You want to relieve it as much as possible — and fast! When you are itching, your most likely response is to scratch to relieve it. But scratching can do you more harm than good, especially if you do it too aggressively.

Scratching can lead to skin irritations and wounds — both of which can worsen the itching, not to mention that they can also lead to more serious conditions like infections.

3. Itching can occur from post lice treatment drying of the scalp

There are two general kinds of head lice treatments — over-the-counter medications and prescriptions. They have powerful ingredients like permethrin and pyrethrin to kill the parasites. If you use them properly, you can get rid of head lice in 2-3 weeks.

Unfortunately, some ingredients of these medications are irritants. After all, they are chemicals specifically designed to get rid of head lice. It’s not far-fetched to believe that they cause drying and irritation in the scalp. This can also lead to more itching even if you don’t have head lice anymore.

Head lice can itch because of scalp dryness.
Head lice sores. Image Source: Web MD

4. Itching can occur from other hair and scalp conditions

Yes, head lice itch. But it’s possible that the itch you are feeling is caused by other hair and scalp conditions. For instance, dandruff is often confused with head lice and vice versa. This is because they have a lot of similarities. Both are itchy and appear like white specks in your head. With that said, dandruff and head lice have key differences that make them easier to distinguish from each other.

Contact dermatitis, ringworms, scabies, and scalp psoriasis are just some of the other hair and scalp conditions that can lead to itching. It’s important to correctly diagnose your head problem. Misdiagnosis can lead to the use of wrong and ineffective treatments.

5. Itching can occur from psychological conditions

There are also instances where the itching is in your head, not on your head. Psychological conditions like psychogenic itching are a thing. In this condition, severe anxiety puts your body in overdrive, giving you unnecessary sensory symptoms like burning and itching.

Don’t underestimate the effects of emotional and psychological responses on your physical body. Oftentimes, they are harmless, like when you blush whenever you feel shy. But sometimes, they can be harmful like psychogenic itching.

6. Ease itching with low-dose antihistamines

Head lice itch can be unbearable. They can prevent you from getting proper sleep, leading to more serious conditions like anxiety, stress, and weakened immune systems. Thankfully, you can ease itching with over-the-counter medications like low-dose antihistamines.

Consult the pharmacist on duty for the proper administration of these medications.

7. Get rid of head lice with over-the-counter medications or prescriptions

If you don’t like to deal with head lice itch, your best bet is to get rid of the head lice themselves. You can try over-the-counter medications. They are effective enough. But the best way to get rid of head lice is by consulting a doctor.

The medical professional will be able to look at your specific case and prescribe the appropriate medication for it. Sure, over-the-counter medications are great. But they can be ineffective if the head lice you have are resistant to common over-the-counter ingredients. A doctor will be able to give you different or more powerful medications.

Head lice are parasites that can cause itching.
Image source: Medicine Net

8. Complement medications with manual lice-removing techniques

The medications themselves are enough to get rid of your head lice infestation. But you can complement them with manual lice-removing techniques to give the parasites fewer chances of surviving. The most common one is the use of lice combs. These are combs with thin teeth and gaps between them — thin enough to catch lice and nits.

There are also a lot of DIY lice treatments all over the internet, but it’s best to avoid them. They are not likely to be very effective. For instance, there are articles out there that say that salt is a good natural lice treatment, but it’s actually not.

9. Treat your hair and scalp

Your hair and scalp may be dry and irritated after being subject to harmful chemicals. The dryness and irritation can contribute to the itching. To ease the itching, remove these contributors by treating your hair and scalp.

The easiest way to do this is to use shampoos and conditioners that help hydrate your hair and scalp. There are also some deep conditioning treatments you can buy in beauty supply stores and pharmacies. If you want a more natural approach, try using oils like coconut oil.

10. Avoid getting head lice again

Getting head lice and treating them can be very annoying and time-consuming. And you don’t want to experience it again and again. Avoid getting head lice again as much as possible with these tips:

  • Consult a doctor for the most effective head lice treatment
  • Treat your entire family to avoid reinfestation between members
  • Clean your home thoroughly, especially pillows and sheets
  • Avoid using the personal items of others
  • Avoid head-to-head contact with others

Leave a Comment