How to Get Rid of Head Lice

Although it is annoying to parents, lice are a common problem in children. Starting about three, through the age of twelve, lice are commonly found in children, especially in girls. They are not dangerous and do not spread diseases but they are contagious and hard to get rid of. They can cause your child’s scalp to itch and scratching may lead to skin irritation or infection.

Head lice are tiny wingless parasitic insects that live on human hair and feed on small amounts of blood from the scalp. They are tiny but can be seen with the naked eye. Nits are the tiny yellow, tan, or brown spots before they hatch. Once they hatch, the shell looks white or clear. Nits are found close to the skins surface and look more like dandruff, but cannot be removed by brushing the hair or trying to shake them off. It is more common to see the nits then it is to see adult lice on your children’s hair. Nits will hatch within one to two weeks of bring laid.

The adult louse is barely as big as a sesame seed and is tan or light brown in color. Most adult lice feed on blood every four to six hours but can live up to three days off the scalp. One reason it is important to remind your children to never use someone’s comb or brush. The itching is sometimes not noticed for weeks although they may complain about something tickling or moving on their heads.

Scratching can cause red sores or bumps and if it gets bad, could cause a rash with oozing. Lymph glands sometimes will swell and if scratching makes the skin red and tender a topical ointment can be used or an oral antibiotic.

Lice are contagious and spread quickly through groups of children and teenagers. They cannot fly, but they can be transferred from one person to another by sharing combs and brushes, wearing someone’s hat, or even touching bed linen.

There are several ways to treat head lice. Your child’s doctor can recommend medicated shampoos or lotions can be used to kill the lice. You can find over-the-counter treatments, but sometimes they are unsuccessful because they have not been used correctly or they have become resistant to the chemical in the shampoos or lotions.

These products are insecticides and not following the directions as they are printed can cause harm to your child. They will usually kill both the nits and the lice but it may take a few days for your child’s head to stop itching. You may consider retreating after seven to ten days because one nit alive and left behind can cause a new infestation.

If your child is under two years old, DO NOT use any medicated lice treatments on them. Lice and nits will need to be removed by hand.

Here are some tips on how to get rid of the lice and their eggs.

  • Use a fine-tooth comb after you shampoo their hair every three to four days for two weeks. If the hair is wet, it immobilizes the lice and it is easier to comb them out.
  • Wash all bed linens and clothing recently worn by the person infested in hot water, at least 130 degrees and then put in the hot cycle of your dryer.
  • Any bed linens, stuffed toys, clothing, and plush toys that cannot be washed should be taken to the dry cleaner. You can also put them in airtight bags for two weeks to kill the nits and lice.
  • Vacuum any upholstered furniture or carpets, both in your home and your car.
  • Hair care items such as brushes and combs can be soaked in medicated shampoo or rubbing alcohol for an hour.

It is important for your child to know they did not get lice by being dirty and they have not done anything wrong. Advise your child not to use another child’s personal possessions, such as comb, brush, or hats. That is the quickest way to transfer head lice from one child to another.

Page Updated: November 12, 2016
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