Childhood Diseases Common Illnesses Head Lice

As one of the most common conditions affecting children, head lice are parasites that live on the blood of humans. Head lice are usually found in the hair, eyebrows and eyelashes of an infected person. Learn about head lice treatment options for this common ailment.

About Head Lice

Head lice have three stages of development that you may encounter:

  • Nit (egg): Laid at the base of the hair shaft, near the scalp, lice nits are difficult to see (only about the size of a knot in a piece of thread). Lice nits may look like dandruff, dried hair spray or scabs, usually yellow or white in color. Live nits can even be the same color as the host’s hair, making detection even more difficult. Nits can be hard to remove, and take about eight to nine days to hatch.
  • Nymph: Nymphs hatch from the lice nits. These are similar to the adult in appearance, only smaller. They feed on blood and mature into adults within nine to 12 days of hatching.
  • Adult: The adult louse is about the size of a sesame seed, usually tan or grayish-white. The adult can live up to 35 days on the head, but only one or two days after falling off. The female is larger than the male, and can lay up to six eggs per day.

Head Lice - Life Cycle of Head Lice

Symptoms of Head Lice

Hair lice spread easily from close head-to-head contact, often between school children due to enclosed quarters. Because they are so small, you may not see them at first. Look for signs such as:

  • Constant itching of the scalp
  • Feeling of movement in the hair
  • Hard-to-remove white specks on single hairs, similar in appearance to dandruff, which are hard to remove (lice nits)
  • Red bumps on the scalp, neck or shoulders.

The itching and bumps are caused by an allergic reaction to the bites of the lice.

Head Lice Treatment

Among the various head lice remedies, over-the-counter or prescription medication is often recommended. Follow the instructions on the box carefully. Be sure to check all household members for lice and to treat those infected at the same time.

Check your child’s head eight to ten hours after treatment. If you still see active lice, call your doctor. You may need to try another lice treatment. Use a nit comb, usually found in medicine packages, to remove dead lice and nits. Continue to check for two to three weeks.

You’ll also want to ensure that any lice on household items are properly sanitized or destroyed. Be sure to:

  • Machine wash recently used bedding, towels and clothing in hot water, and dry on high heat.
  • Seal items in plastic bags that can’t be washed for two weeks.
  • Soak brushes and combs in hot water for about 10 minutes.
  • Vacuum the house, especially your child’s room.

Call your pediatrician if treatment doesn’t seem to be working, or if you have any concerns.

Resources

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Staff. (2008). Head lice: Fact sheet. Retrieved December 22, 2009, from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Web site: http://www.cdc.gov/lice/head/factsheet.html.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Staff. (2008). Head lice: Treatment. Retrieved December 22, 2009, from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Web site: http://www.cdc.gov/lice/head/treatment.html.

Kaneshiro, N. (2009). Head lice. Retrieved December 22, 2009, from the Med Line Plus Web site: http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/000840.htm.

Kids Health Staff. (2008). Head lice. Retrieved December 22, 2009, from the Kids Health Web site: http://kidshealth.org/parent/infections/common/lice.html.