Discovering head lice can be a shock. But while these tiny parasites can make your scalp itchy, they don’t directly cause hair loss. Causes of hair loss may include stress, extreme scratching, or a lice allergy.

Head lice are small parasites that live primarily on your scalp. They’re fond of warm places, like behind your ears and at the nape of your neck, and you may sometimes find them in your eyebrows and eyelashes.

Lice need your hair to survive. After all, your hair is where they lay eggs to complete their life cycle. If a louse falls off its host — that’s you — it can only survive for 1 to 2 days.

To sum up, head lice don’t make your hair fall out simply by living on your head. That said, it is possible to notice some temporary hair loss during a lice infestation or directly after you treat your scalp for head lice.

Read on to learn why you might have hair loss with head lice, and how to handle it.

Hair loss that occurs alongside a head lice infestation is called secondary hair loss.

According to Dr. Leah Ansell, a board certified dermatologist from Rye, New York, this type of hair loss often results from your response to a head lice infestation.

“Lice themselves do not contribute to hair loss,” she explains. “It’s the secondary effects like scratching or the meticulous process of picking out nits from the hair shaft that can lead to hair breakage and hair loss.”

However, Ansell adds that in extremely rare cases, severe lice infestations may contribute to iron deficiency anemia, which could play a part in hair loss.

What’s more, excessive scratching may do more than break your hair, notes Dr. Jodi LoGerfo, a board certified dermatologist from New York City. Scratching can cause inflammation and scarring, which can injure your hair at the follicles.

The inflammation and itching that happens with a lice infestation will begin to stop as soon as you treat the head lice. Any hair breakage or loss you experienced during the infestation will likely also stop.

LoGerfo says an allergic reaction may also cause hair loss with lice.

An allergy to louse feces, saliva, or bites can trigger a rash. Any time your scalp is compromised in this way, you’re at risk of secondary infection, inflammation, and scarring — all of which could contribute to hair loss, according to LoGerfo.

Lice treatments don’t cause hair loss, say LoGerfo and Ansell.

“There are several treatment options both over-the-counter and prescription to treat head lice,” LoGerfo explains. “Hair loss after treatment with these medications is unfounded. However, because of the nature of these medications, you can have irritation or sensitivity of the scalp as a result.”

The treatments may also cause hair to become dry and brittle, she adds, and you may experience some hair breakage when combining these treatments with the use of a fine-toothed comb to remove dead lice and eggs (nits).

If you don’t have any sensitivities to head lice or the treatment method you choose, you likely won’t experience hair loss — even if you’re dealing with a severe infestation that requires multiple treatments.

Ongoing stress from recurrent infestations may play a role in hair loss, however.

According to Ansell, lice infestations can pose a major source of stress for some people. If that’s the case for you, you may experience telogen effluvium — the second most common type of hair loss — for a few months after getting rid of the lice, Ansell says.

It’s absolutely possible to have head lice and experience hair loss at the same time, without any connection between the two.

Some common causes of hair loss include:

It’s natural to feel overwhelmed or dismayed when you notice hair falling out. But it may help to keep in mind that addressing the underlying cause often helps reverse hair loss.

Remember, too, that hair loss doesn’t always pose a major cause for concern: The average person sheds between 50 hairs to 100 hairs every day. You may shed even more in certain circumstances, including times of major stress or during the first 6 weeks after childbirth.

As a start, it can help to find out if you’re experiencing hair shedding or hair loss — or both at the same time.

Hair shedding is natural, and your body will eventually replace the hair you shed with new hair. Hair loss happens when something prevents your hair from growing as it typically would.

A dermatologist can offer more support with determining whether you’re shedding or losing hair. These doctors have special training in diagnosing and treating hair, skin, and nail conditions. They can recommend strategies for addressing your hair loss, including:

  • styling hair loosely
  • taking steps to minimize stress
  • treating conditions of the scalp
  • trying prescription medications

If you’re dealing with head lice, keep in mind that treating the lice as soon as possible may relieve the itching and secondary effects that indirectly cause your hair to fall out.

To help prevent hair loss at home, you can try these steps:

  • Avoid scratching or irritating your scalp.
  • Towel- or air-dry your hair instead of using a hair dryer.
  • Limit the amount of time you spend brushing your hair.
  • Allow your hair to partially dry before you comb it out.
  • Use styling tools set to “low” or “medium” heat settings only.
  • Use heated styling tools no more than every other day.
  • Limit tight styles that pull your hair, including braids, ponytails, or cornrows.
  • Avoid using styling products that promise a “long lasting hold.”

Get more tips to handle hair loss here.

Head lice and head lice treatments won’t directly cause your hair to fall out.

Still, you may experience some hair damage and breakage during or after a head lice infestation. This hair loss typically relates to secondary effects, including frequent scratching, a lice allergy, or general scalp irritation.

Treating head lice right away can help lower your chances of hair loss. Caring for your hair gently by avoiding tight styles and heated styling tools can also help prevent hair loss over time.