Head Lice

What are head lice?

Head lice are tiny, gray bugs. They are 2 to 3 millimeters (1/8 inch) long. They move fast and are hard to see but they cannot fly or jump. Head lice live in the hair and bite the scalp to suck blood. They can survive up to 30 days and lay 8 eggs a day.

They attach their white eggs, called nits, to the hair, which take about a week to hatch. Unlike dandruff, nits can't be shaken off. They are easier to see than the lice because they are white and there are a lot of them. The back of the neck is the favorite area for lice and nits. Lice and nits cause your child's scalp to be very itchy and possibly to have a rash.

What is the cause?

Head lice live only on human beings. Lice have nothing to do with hygiene and even the cleanest person can become infected. They spread when people's heads touch or when they share hats and other clothing, combs, brushes, headbands, hair clips and bedding. If lice are stuck on any of these things and that thing touches another person's head, that person may also get lice.

What is the treatment?

Applying a special medicated shampoo, cream, or lotion will quickly kill the adult lice but not the nits.

The most important part of the treatment is combing your child's hair very thoroughly with a fine-tooth comb to remove the nits. Purchase a heavy-duty, high-quality comb that will remove the nits properly. The combing usually needs to be done nightly for one to two weeks. If the nits are not removed each day, the lice are likely to return. Shaving the head does not cure lice.

The itching should go away within a few days, but the medicated treatment will need to be repeated in 5 to 7 days to kill any new lice that may have hatched since the first treatment.

Occasionally, lice may get into the eyelashes. If you see any lice or nits there, apply plain petroleum jelly on the lashes twice a day for 8 days to kill the lice and nits.

Head lice can't live for more than 24 hours off the human body, although nits can live for two weeks. Vacuum your child's room, soak combs and brushes for 1 hour in a solution made from the anti-lice shampoo and wash your child's sheets, blankets, and pillowcases in hot water. Items that can't be washed (hats or coats) can be sealed in plastic bags for 2 weeks (until the nits are dead). You do not need to use anti-lice room sprays.

Check the head of everyone else living in your home. If lice or nits are seen, or they start to get an itchy scalp rash, they should be treated with anti-lice shampoo and thorough combing. You can use the same comb as long as it is washed well with soap and hot water in between uses. Your child can return to school after the first treatment with the shampoo. Remind your child not to share combs and hats.

Call 911

If you feel that your child needs immediate medical care.

Call us during office hours if:

  • The rash and itching are not gone 1 week after treatment. 
  • The rash starts to spread or look infected. 
  • The lice and nits return. 
  • You have other questions or concerns.

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