Head Lice: Prevention & Treatment

Head lice infestation is common among children in schools and childcare facilities. Having head lice isn’t a sign someone is dirty, it simply means they have come into contact with a person or object infested with the fast-moving insects.

Head lice are easily spread through head-to-head contact or can be passed by sharing hats, combs, brushes, hair accessories, coats or towels. Even putting your head on infested beds, pillows, couches or chairs can cause you to get head lice.

The most common symptom of head lice is an itchy scalp. The intense itch can encourage persistent scratching, leading to redness and irritation of the scalp and neck. Those with head lice may also complain of a crawling sensation on their scalp.

Once lice invade the scalp, female lice lay tiny seed-like eggs, approximately the size of a poppy seed, on hair shafts, near the scalp. The eggs hatch in about 10 days, leaving behind clear empty eggshells known as nits. The sticky eggs and nits cannot be washed away and must be removed with a fine-toothed comb.

When inspecting the scalp for signs of lice, wet the hair and examine the scalp under a bright light. Separate hair into sections and comb each section slowly beginning at the scalp. Look for eggs or nits that are attached to the hair shaft. Dirt, dandruff and other debris can be distinguished from nits by combing, since these particles are more easily removed.

To get rid of head lice, start with an over-the-counter product designed to treat head lice infestation. Shampoo hair with the product; work up lather, then leave in the hair for several minutes before rinsing.

Follow directions closely and don’t combine products. Shampoo the hair in a sink or over a tub, don’t shower or soak in it. After shampooing, comb the hair with the special comb that comes with the treatment shampoo.

Check for active lice 8-12 hours after treating. If you see live lice, speak with your dermatologist about more potent prescription treatment options.

If treatment appears successful, avoiding washing hair for 2 days. Comb through the hair daily with the special comb for 2 to 3 weeks. Most products recommend retreatment after 7 to 9 days. Check family members and friends for infestation daily for two weeks, but only treat those with signs of lice.

To clean brushes and combs, soak in very hot water for 10 minutes. Wash bed linens and towels in hot water and dry on the hottest setting, for at least 10 minutes. If stuffed animals cannot be washed, they should be placed in a hot dryer for approximately 30 minutes.

Carefully vacuum furniture, carpets and floors. Items such as headphones or helmets should be sealed in a plastic bag for 2 weeks or placed in the freezer overnight.

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