Lice are tiny wingless parasitic insects that live on human blood. There are three types of lice:

  • Head lice (pediculosis capitis). This type lives on the head and neck. The females produce a sticky substance that attaches their eggs (called nits) to hair shafts.
  • Body lice (pediculosis corporis). This type lives and lays eggs on clothing, moving to the skin to feed.
  • Pubic lice (pediculosis pubis). Also called “crabs,” this type lives in the genital area. As with head lice, the females produce a sticky substance that attaches their eggs to hair shafts. Occasionally they can be found on other coarse body hair such as eyelashes, eyebrows, armpits, beard, mustache.

Lice have three forms: nit, nymph (hatches from a nit), and adult. Typically, they can survive less than one to two days without feeding on human blood. Since they can only crawl — not fly or jump — they’re commonly spread through close, person-to-person contact.

The medical term for lice living in eyelashes is phthiriasis palpebrarum. They’re a relatively rare occurrence.

Logically, one would think that lice in your eyelashes would be lice that move from your head. Actually, according to a 2009 study, lice living in your eyelashes are commonly pubic lice, often having gotten there by hand contact from the genital area to the eye. They cling to the skin of your eyelid, at the root of the eye lash.

The lifecycle of the pubic louse

  • Pubic lice nits hatch into nymphs after 6 to 10 days.
  • Pubic lice nymphs take two to three weeks to mature into a reproducing adult.
  • Adult pubic lice have a life span of 3 to 4 weeks, during which the female will lay about 30 nits.

If you find lice in your eyelashes, you should also check the other coarse hair areas on your body, such as pubic hair and armpits. This will help determine the scope of the treatment.

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Though less common than on the head or in the pubic area, lice can infect any area with hair, including eyebrows and eyelashes.

The first symptom you’ll most likely notice is itching. This itching is most intense at the root of the eyelashes. Sometimes, the itching becomes more severe during the night when the lice are more active.

Other symptoms include:

  • tickling feeling
  • tearing
  • eye redness
  • eyelashes may stick together
  • eyelashes may feel thicker
  • brown or black spots at the base of the eyelashes

According to a 2015 case study, a patient with eyelash lice was successfully treated with the following three-day procedure:

  1. Petroleum jelly was applied thickly to the lid, two times daily.
  2. About two hours after the petroleum jelly application, 1-percent permethrin shampoo was applied to the eyelid.
  3. About 10 minutes after the shampoo was applied, the eyelid was thoroughly washed.

Before following any suggested treatment, ask your doctor’s advice. Commercial chemicals and shampoos can cause irritation or damage to the eye if not properly administered.

You doctor can write a prescription for an ophthalmic-grade petrolatum ointment if they feel that this treatment route is the best for you.

The translucent oval-shaped nits on the bases of your eyelashes look quite similar to the crust from seborrheic blepharitis. A 2009 study indicated that eyelashes infested with lice mimic lid eczema and blepharitis and is easily misdiagnosed as such.

A 2015 study reported that eyelashes infested with lice also resembles and can be misdiagnosed as bacterial, viral, or allergic conjunctivitis.

Lice living in your eyelashes are commonly pubic lice. Chances are your eyelids will be very itchy. There’s also a chance that the infestation might be misdiagnosed as lid eczema or blepharitis.