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What is head lice?

Head lice are insects that live on the scalp. They can cause skin and scalp rash by irritating the skin. Lice are spread from person to person. The white eggs (nits) are laid on the scalp hair and the lice hatch from these. These eggs are strongly attached to the hair and do not come off with simple brushing. They are often found behind the ears and the back of the neck.

What causes head lice?

Head lice live on human beings. They can be spread mostly by direct contact with the hair of infested people. Occasionally, they may spread by sharing personal belongs such as a hat, comb, or brush of a person with lice. Sharing these things should be avoided. They can also be spread by simple close contact. Anyone can get lice, even with good health habits and frequent hair washing. The eggs normally hatch in about one week.

Signs of head lice:

Children with head lice have an itchy scalp or itchy skin. Brown eggs may be found attached to the hairs. White eggs are seen once the larvae have hatched from the eggs. If you look closely, you may see adult lice crawling on the scalp, but this may not always happen since they are good at “hiding”.

Treatment:

  • Head lice are treated with a shampoo that will kill the adult and immature lice. Your child's doctor will tell you which shampoo to use and how to use it. The treatment usually needs to be repeated in 7 to 10 days if there are living lice still present after 24 hours.
  • Head lice can be passed to other family members. The doctor may have all members of the household be treated at the same time.
  • A medication to control the itch may be used. Your child's doctor will decide if it is needed.
  • Eggs can be removed by back combing with a fine-tooth comb or by pulling them out of the hair individually. The eggs can be loosened by soaking the hair in 1:1 solution of white vinegar and water.
  • Combs and brushes should be soaked for ten minutes in hot water or washed with the lice shampoo.
  • Clothing, bedding and cloth toys should be washed and dried using the hot cycle in a washing machine and dryer. Take care not to spread the lice and eggs when removing bed linen. Fold the four corners toward the center of the bed and remove carefully.
  • Clothing and bedding that cannot be washed can be dry cleaned or stored in a plastic bag for ten days.
  • There is no need to clean sofas, chairs or rugs.

When to call your child's doctor:

  • Itching interferes with sleep.
  • The rash is not cleared up one week after treatment.
  • The rash clears and then returns.
  • New eggs appear in the hair.
  • The sores start to spread and look infected.

Special Care

Children may return to school after the lice treatment is complete. Some schools require letters from the child’s doctor or the empty bottle of lice shampoo.


Disclaimer: This information is not intended to substitute or replace the professional medical advice you receive from your child's physician. The content provided on this page is for informational purposes only, and was not designed to diagnose or treat a health problem or disease. Please consult your child's physician with any questions or concerns you may have regarding a medical condition.

Reviewed: 11/05