Head lice

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I know…it’s hard to NOT be disgusted if you  or your child gets head lice.  But, don’t overreact.  It’s benign.  It’s treatable. And, it’s nothing to feel dirty about.

The head louse (the plural of louse is lice) is a parasitic insect that can be found on the eyebrows, eyelashes and scalp.  The lice live close to the scalp and feed on human blood several times a day.   In the United States, head lice are most common among daycare-attending preschool children, elementary school children,k and household members of infested children.

If you get head lice it does not mean you are unclean.  Personal hygiene or cleanliness in the home/school have little to do with contracting lice.  Lice crawl (they cannot fly or hop).

The method of spreading lice can be

  • Direct head-to-head contact with the hair of an infected person is one method of spread,
  • sharing clothing or combs, brushes or towels,
  • lying on a couch, pillow or bed after an infested person has.  (If lice fall off the scalp they die within one to two days and lice eggs die within a week.)

Pets do not spread head lice.

Symptoms of head lice are ticking feeling on the scalp, itching caused by an allergic reaction to the bite, emotional irritability, difficulty sleeping, sores on the head after bouts of scratching.

What should you do if you suspect head lice?

  1. Inspect the head for eggs (also called nits that look like white/yellow/ brown knots on the hair), nymphs (young lice) and adults (6-legged beige or gray insect the size of a sesame seed).
  2.  If one member of the family has lice, check everyone else’s scalp.
  3. Treat anyone infected.

Here’s how to treat head lice.

  • Call your physician if child under age 3 for an appropriate medication.
  • If older than 3, over-the-counter medicines are usually sufficient.
  • Use fine-toothed comb to remove lice and eggs.
  • Follow package instructions.
  • Repeat treatment after 7 to 10 days to kill any eggs that have hatched after the first treatment.
  • Do not use hair conditioner before lice treatment.  The conditioner coats the hair and prevents the lice medicine from being effective.
  • Do not wash hair for two days after treatment.

What else needs to be done in the home?

  • Machine-wash and dry in hot air cycle any bedding, clothing, hats, scarves or towels used the 2 days before lice treatment.
  • For items that cannot be laundered may be dry-cleaned or sealed in a plastic bag for 2 weeks (as the lice will all die by then).
  • Soak combs and brushes in hot water (130 degrees Fahrenheit or more) for 10 minutes.
  • Vacuum furniture and flooring to remove any hairs that may have viable nits attached.
  • Exterminators are not necessary.
  • If after 8 to 12 hours after treatment, lice seem as active before on the scalp, the medication may not be working and the lice may be resistant to the medication you have tried.  If so, call your physician for a different medication.

Want more information?  www.cdc.gov/parasites/lice


About drlesliegreenberg

I have been practicing as a family physician for over 20 years--as both an educator of physicians and clinician. From infancy to the elderly, I perform obstetrics and general medicine. I love my career and am passionate about my field of knowledge and my patients. Follow me on Facebook at Leslie Md Greenberg Medical Disclaimer The content of this website is provided for general informational purposes only and is not intended as, nor should it be considered a substitute for, professional medical advice. Do not use the information on this website for diagnosing or treating any medical or health condition. If you have or suspect you have a medical problem, promptly contact your professional healthcare provider.
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