Lice and fleas are tiny insects that live on your body and feed on blood. But there are key differences between them.

Lice are tiny insects that live and grow on human hair, feeding on your blood. They’re most commonly found in scalp hair.

Lice crawl from one person’s head to another, breeding and causing infestations if they’re not treated early — but they also die after a few days without a host.

Fleas are also tiny insects that rely on blood to survive. They’re commonly associated with animals like dogs and cats but easily pass from animals to humans by jumping rather than crawling.

Fleas also live much longer than lice without a host, surviving up to 100 days.

Read on to learn more about the difference between lice and fleas, including what symptoms to watch out for and what treatments can help stop infestations of lice or fleas.

Lice are nearly microscopic. They’re long and have lightly colored, segmented bodies with six long legs ending in claws. In hair, lice and their eggs (nits) look like tiny white specks.

Fleas are much larger than lice, making them easier to spot. Their bodies are rounded, and their legs are shorter than their bodies. When they suck blood, they become larger and darker.

Lice crawl around and cluster together on hair. You won’t usually find them too far from a living host.

Fleas jump from host to host and can live for a longer time. You’ll usually find them in large infestations on animals.

Here are some of the most common symptoms of lice bites and fleabites to watch out for.

Lice bite symptoms

Symptoms of lice bites are itchy red bumps that turn into sores when you scratch them.

Fleabite symptoms

  • circular bumps in clusters
  • itchiness or soreness around bites
  • hives or rash near bites
  • discharge if bumps are scratched open
  • blisters with white tops if bites get infected

Lice can be itchy and cause a lot of discomfort, but they don’t pose a major health risk. At worst, lice spread and infest environments with many people, such as schools or gyms.

Fleas also cause itchiness and discomfort. But fleas can also spread disease when they bite, including:

Here are the most commons lice treatments and flea treatments that you might need.

Lice treatment

  • specialized lice combs to pick lice and nits out of your hair
  • over-the-counter (OTC) lice shampoo to wash lice out of your hair, such as Rid or Nix
  • medicated lice ointments that can be applied to your hair, such as Ovide and benzyl alcohol
  • use olive oil or almond oil to smother lice

Flea treatment

  • anti-itch creams to relieve symptoms
  • anti-histamines to reduce inflammation and itching from bites
  • antibiotics if bites have become infected
  • medicated flea shampoo on your pet or on your body
  • topic or oral flea medication for your pet

How to get rid of lice

The following methods can be used to kill lice:

  • washing clothes and bedding in hot water — 130°F (54°C) or above — and drying on high heat.
  • dry-cleaning clothes and bedding.
  • soaking hair brushes, combs, and other hair accessories in hot water — 130°F (54°C) — for 5–10 minutes
  • vacuuming floors and upholstered furniture

How to get rid of fleas

Here are some tips for getting rid of flea infestations:

  • vacuuming carpeting and furniture
  • steam-cleaning carpet and upholstery
  • washing all bedding in hot water
  • trimming grass or brush around your home where fleas might live
  • using a flea comb to remove fleas from your pet
  • regularly washing your pet’s bedding

Contact a doctor if:

  • you’ve tried to stop an infestation, but it hasn’t worked
  • itchiness becomes unbearable
  • itchy bumps or rashes start oozing pus or become infected
  • you notice symptoms, such as fatigue or fever, of illness

Here are some tips to help prevent lice:

  • don’t share clothes, towels, or other materials that touch other people’s hair
  • don’t allow your head to make contact with another person’s head
  • separate your personal belongings from those of people who have lice
  • wash bedding or clothes that have been exposed to lice

Some prevention tips for fleas include getting your pet groomed often, especially if they spend a lot of time outside, and avoiding spending time in dense brush or woods where fleas and ticks live.

Here are some of the most frequently asked questions about lice and fleas.

How do you tell if you have lice or fleas?

Lice mostly live in hair, especially on your scalp. They look like tiny white specks and leave itchy bumps behind. Fleas can live anywhere on your body and are much easier to spot. They also leave itchy bumps behind but can also cause diseases that have other noticeable symptoms.

Can fleas live in your bed?

Fleas prefer to live on a host, so it’s not common for them to live in your bed. But they may jump from a pet onto your bed and jump onto you if you’re in bed.

Do lice jump like fleas?

Lice don’t jump. They crawl from person to person.

Will lice shampoo kill fleas?

Lice shampoo isn’t usually effective at killing fleas. Flea shampoo is recommended for the best results in killing fleas.

Lice are difficult to see and usually cause less harm, but fleas are easy to spot and may spread disease if they’re not treated.

Treat lice and fleas as soon as you spot them to make sure they don’t spread or cause an infestation.