What Parents Need To Know About Lice.

What are Lice?

Lice the plural form of louse are tiny wingless six-legged insects that cling to the hair, and feed on blood from the scalp neck.  Each louse is about the size of a sesame seed and can be hard to spot. Lice eggs, called nits, are glued onto hairs near the scalp and can be even harder to see. Head lice spreads easily from person to person and are a common problem especially for kids and can sometimes be tough to get rid of. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) it is  estimated that up to 12 million lice infestations occur every year in the United States.  

Head lice can be super annoying,  They are not a sign of poor hygiene.  Head lice need blood to feed on and they don’t care whether it’s from someone who is clean or dirty.  It’s best to treat head lice right away to prevent them from spreading. While they are not known to spread disease, their bites can make a child’s scalp itchy and irritated, and scratching can lead to infection.

What Parents Should Look For?

Even though they’re tiny, you can see head lice. Lice eggs (nits) are tiny yellow, tan, or brown dots about the size of a pinpoint  before they hatch and will be seen on the hair shafts close to the scalp.  Lice lay eggs  where the temperature is perfect for keeping warm until they hatch. The nits look a bit like dandruff, but unlike dandruff nits will remain stuck to the hair shaft, and will not move simply by brushing or shaking them off.

Unless a child has many head lice, it’s more common to see nits in the hair than live lice crawling on the scalp. Lice eggs hatch 1–2 weeks after they’re laid. After hatching, the remaining shell looks white or clear and stays attached to the hair shaft. This is when it’s easiest to spot them, as the hair is growing longer and the egg shell is moving away from the scalp.

The adult louse don’t tend to grow larger than 2 millimeters, which is about the size of a sesame seed, female lice are larger than males. The adult louse  has 6 legs (each with claws), and is tan to grayish-white image . In persons with dark hair, the adult louse will appear darker. Females are usually larger than males and can lay up to 8 nits per day. Mature lice can live up to 3-4 weeks on a person’s head. To live, adult lice need to feed on blood several times daily. Without blood meals, the louse will die within 1 to 2 days off the host.

Lice bites can make you scalp itchy and scratchy, due to a reaction to the saliva of the lice. The itching doesn’t always start right away and can depend on how sensitive a child’s skin is to the lice.By the time your child is itching, it may have been weeks that your child had become infected with lice.  

Some kids may have mild irritation from scratching, while others may get a bothersome rash. It is important to treat as soon as possible because continued scratching can lead to a bacterial infection. Also, be sure to watch for swollen lymph nodes (glands) on the  neck.  Tender red skin  might have crusting and oozing. Contact your child’s pediatrician as they may have to be treated for a skin infection with an antibiotic.

How Can I Check My Child for Head Lice?

Look for lice and nits on the scalp, behind the ears, and around the nape of the neck. It’s rare for lice to be in eyelashes or eyebrows. It can be tough to find a nymph or adult louse. Usually, there aren’t many of them and they move fast. Look for nits attached to the hair near the scalp. They can look like dandruff or dirt. To tell them apart, pull on the little speck with your fingers — dandruff and dirt can be removed, but nits stay stuck. A magnifying glass and a bright light can help with your inspection.

The best way to check is by using a fine-tooth comb on wet hair. After applying lots of conditioner, comb the hair out in very small sections, and look for lice or nits on the comb. You can wipe the comb onto a tissue or paper towel where it will be easier to see them. 

If your child is itchy and scratching their head but you’re not sure if it’s lice, ask your child’s doctor or the nurse at school or childcare center to take a look.

Lice Treatment

There are two main ways to treat lice are: Removing by hand and OTC Medicines 

Removing by hand

Can be an option for those that do not want to use insecticide and is the only option for children 2 months old or younger, who should not use medicated lice treatment. Removing lice and nits by hand can finish the job if the medicine did not completely rid your child of lice (no medicine is 100% effective). 

To do this, use a fine-tooth comb on wet, conditioned hair every 3–4 days for 3 weeks after the last live louse was seen. Wetting the hair temporarily stops the lice from moving, and the conditioner makes it easier to get a comb through the hair. Though petroleum jelly, mayonnaise, or olive oil are sometimes used to try to suffocate head lice, these treatments may not work.  If the removal by hand method doesn’t work, you should consult your physician before trying an OTC treatment.

OTC Medicines 

Medicated shampoos and cream rinses are available in kits that kill lice. These may be over-the-counter (OTC) or prescription medicines. If you do buy OTC medicines, be sure it’s safe for your child’s age and while some over-the-counter shampoos are safe for kids as young as 2 months, others are only safe  for kids 2 years and older.

In some areas the lice have developed resistance to some medicines, which means they no longer work to kill the lice. You can ask your doctor or a pharmacist to recommend a medicine known to work in your area. Your doctor may also prescribe a medicated shampoo or lotion. For some very resistant lice, the doctor may even give you a prescription for medicine to be taken by mouth.  Whether the medicine is OTC or prescription, always follow the directions closely. Applying too much may be harmful, while applying too little may not won’t work.

Be sure to check out  A Few Important things NOT to do

Are Head Lice Contagious?

Head lice can spread quickly from person to person, especially in group settings like schools, childcare centers, slumber parties, sports activities, and camps. Because lice do not have wings they can’t fly,  nor do they have the ability to jump, but they do have claws that let them crawl and cling to hair. They spread through head-to-head contact, and by sharing clothing, bed linens, combs, brushes, and hats. Dogs, cats, and other pets do not play a role in the transmission of human pubic lice.

Do Kids Have to Stay Home From School?

You are probably wondering if kids need to stay home if they have lice. In the past, kids with head lice were kept home from school. But now doctors don’t recommend these “no-nit” policies. In most cases, a child who has lice should stay at school until the end of the day, go home and get treatment, and return to school the next day. While they are at school, kids should avoid head-to-head contact with other kids. It can help to put long hair up in a bun, braid, or ponytail. Always check with your school or doctor for your district’s policy. 

Can We Prevent Head Lice?

Because lice easily pass from person to person in the same house, check all family members. Every 3 or 4 days, check kids who had close contact with a person who has lice. Then, treat any who have lice or nits close to the scalp. Treat everyone who has lice so they won’t pass it back and forth. 

To get rid of head lice and their eggs  and to help prevent them from coming back, parents should also wash all bed linens, stuffed animals, and clothing used during the 2 days before treatment. Any lice that may have fallen off before that will not be alive. Wash in hot water (130°F [54.4°C]), then put them in the hot cycle of the dryer for at least 20 minutes. Care should be taken to read washing instructions on labels.  Any items that cannot be washed should be dry cleaned. Alternatively items can be placed  in airtight bags for 2 weeks to be safe. In addition, you should vacuum carpets and any upholstered furniture in your home and or car. Don’t forget to throw away the vacuum cleaner bag after use.

You will also need to soak hair-care items like combs, barrettes, hair ties or bands, headbands, and brushes in hot water or throw them away. Be sure to tell your kids not to share these items. You should also tell your kids to try to avoid head-to-head contact at school (in gym, on the playground, or during sports) and while playing at home with other children.

Many parents know that fighting head lice can be an ongoing battle. There’s no doubt that they can be hard bugs to get rid of. There are professional lice treatment centers that remove lice and nits for a fee. These services are effective but often costly. If you’ve tried everything and your child still has lice, it could be because:

  • Some nits were left behind (if you see nits far from the scalp — more than ½ inch (1 cm) — and no live lice, these are probably dead and treatment likely isn’t needed
  • Your child is still around someone who has lice
  • The treatment you are  using isn’t effective
  • If your child has lice 2 weeks after you started treatment or if your child’s scalp looks infected, call your doctor


While having lice can be embarrassing, remind you child that anyone can get them. Having head lice is not a sign of dirtiness or poor hygiene. Lice  can be a problem no matter how often kids wash their hair or bathe. Dealing with head lice can be frustrating. Be patient and follow the treatments and prevention tips from your doctor, and soon your family will be lice-free.

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