Head lice are small wingless insects (bugs) that can get on your hair and scalp. Lice are parasites, which mean that they feed on very small amounts of your blood. Lice bites may cause constant scratching and lead to skin irritation or even infection.
Anyone can get head lice, but they are more common among school-aged children. Head lice spread more easily among children 3 years to 12 years of age because they share their belongings more often than adults and play close together.
Lice aren't dangerous and they don't spread disease, but they are contagious and can just be downright annoying. Their bites may cause a child's scalp to become itchy and inflamed, and persistent scratching may lead to skin irritation and even infection.
People do not get head lice because they're dirty. Head lice are very contagious. No matter how many times you or your child takes a shower or washes his or her hair, it's still possible to get head lice from head-to-head contact with someone who is already infested with lice. Sharing hats, towels, pillows, combs or brushes with someone who has head lice.
SIGNS AND SYMPTOMS
Though very small, lice can be seen by the naked eye. What you or your doctor might see by thoroughly examining your child's head. Certain symptoms you can watch for as lice move very fast, they are not always easy to see.
Small red bumps or sores on the scalp, neck and shoulders
Lice eggs, also called nits, which look like tiny, oval shaped, white or clear dots, they usually stick at an angle on hair shafts.
Following are some steps you can take to help keep lice away:
Ask your child not to share combs, brushes or hair decorations.
Tell 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.
Ask your child not to try on hats that belong to other children.
Tell kids not to lie on bedding, pillows, and carpets that have recently been used by someone with lice.
If your child will be sleeping away from home, be sure to pack his or her own pillow and towels.
It's wise to treat head lice quickly once the diagnosis is made because they can spread easily from person to person.
Your doctor can recommend a medicated shampoo, cream rinse, or lotion to kill the lice. These may be over-the-counter (OTC) or prescription medications, depending on what treatments have already been tried. Medicated lice treatments usually kill the lice and nits, but it may take a few days for the itching to stop. For very resistant lice, an oral medication might be prescribed.
It is important to talk to your doctor before using these products, especially if you are pregnant or nursing, or if you have allergies or asthma. It is also not safe to use products with pesticides on or near your eyes. If you find head lice or nits in eyelashes or brows, talk to your doctor.
If over the counter shampoos and lotions are not effective, your doctor can prescribe a cream, lotion or shampoo to treat your head lice. These are also safer for women who are pregnant or breastfeeding.
The products that kill head lice don't usually kill all nits. To reduce the risk of another lice infestation, pick the remaining lice and nits by hand or by using a special comb (brand name: LiceMeister comb) to remove them. Comb through all of the hair one section at a time every 3 days or more often, for at least 2 weeks or until you stop seeing head lice and nits.
You should also use hot water to wash any bed linens, towels and clothing recently worn by the person who had head lice. Vacuum anything that can't be washed such as the couch, carpets, your child's car seat and any stuffed animals. Because head lice don't live very long away from the scalp, you don't need to use lice spray on these items.
Soak hair-care items like combs, barrettes, hair ties or bands, headbands, and brushes in rubbing alcohol or medicated shampoo for 1 hour. You can also wash them in hot water or just throw them away.