Head Lice In Children

What are head lice in children?

Head lice are tiny bugs that live and feed on blood from your child's scalp. They are tan, gray, or brown, and are about the size of a sesame seed. They lay eggs (nits) and attach the eggs to your child's hair.

How do head lice in children spread?

Head lice are spread through direct contact. For example, sharing combs, hats, hair ribbons, or hairbrushes can spread lice. Your child may also get lice if he shares towels, clothes, or blankets.

What are the signs and symptoms of head lice in children?

  • Severe itching is the most common symptom.

  • Your child may feel a ticklish feeling, as if something is crawling on his head.

  • You may see red marks, sores, or swelling on your child's scalp. These are often found behind the ears or the back of the neck.

How are head lice in children diagnosed?

Your child's caregiver can usually see the lice when he examines your child's scalp and hair. He may use a fine-tooth comb to collect the lice. He may check the lice with a microscope to make sure it is not dandruff, lint, or dried deposits of hairspray. Strands of your child's hair may also be sent to the lab to confirm the presence of lice.

How are head lice in children treated?

  • Lice medicine: These are used to kill head lice. You can buy lice shampoo, lotion, or cream without a doctor's order. Use them as directed. Do not use these products on children under 2 years old. Throw away all lice medicine that you do not use. Keep it away from your eyes.

  • Comb out lice: Comb your child's wet hair with a fine-tooth comb. Do this every 3 or 4 days for 2 weeks to remove all lice as they hatch. Wet combing may be the only treatment recommended for children younger than 2 years. To help remove eggs, soak your child's hair in equal parts water and white vinegar. Then wrap a towel around your child's head for 15 minutes. Remove the towel and comb his hair with a fine-tooth comb.

How can I manage my child's head lice?

  • Try to keep your child from scratching his scalp. Trim his fingernails or have him wear soft gloves or mittens if scratching is a problem.

  • Use lice medicines and wet combing until there are no more lice on his head.

  • Do not shave your child's hair.

  • Do not use pet products, acetone, bleach, kerosene or other flammable products to kill lice.

How can I prevent the spread of head lice?

  • Wash clothes and bedding: Wash all clothes, towels, sheets, and hats used by your child in the past 2 days in hot, soapy water. Dry them on the hot cycle for at least 20 minutes. Items that cannot be washed or dry cleaned should be sealed in an airtight plastic bag for 2 weeks. Vacuum furniture, rugs, carpets, car seats, or other fabrics.

  • Disinfect personal items: Soak combs, brushes, and other hair items in lice medicine or hot water. Wash lice combs and clothing your child wore during each lice treatment and after each combing.

  • Check family members for lice: Treat those who have lice at the same time. Do not share personal items or bedding.

  • Tell your child's school or daycare center: They will tell other families that their children may have been exposed to lice. Your child can return to school after he has used lice medicine.

What are the risks of head lice?

Your child may be embarrassed because of the lice or scratching. Severe scratching can cause bleeding, swelling, or infection. Lice medicines may cause burning or irritated skin, or an allergic reaction if not used correctly. In rare cases, lice medicine can cause a seizure.

When should I contact my child's caregiver?

Contact your child's caregiver if:

  • You still see lice after 2 days of treatment.

  • Your child's bites become filled with pus or crusty.

  • Your child's hair is matted and has a bad smell.

  • Your child's scalp burns, stings, or is numb after using the lice medicine.

  • You have questions or concerns about your child's condition or care.

When should I seek immediate care?

Seek care immediately or call 911 if:

  • Your child becomes more irritable or fussy than normal.

  • Your child is dizzy, has nausea or vomiting, or a seizure after using lice medicine.

Care Agreement

You have the right to help plan your child's care. Learn about your child's health condition and how it may be treated. Discuss treatment options with your child's caregivers to decide what care you want for your child. The above information is an educational aid only. It is not intended as medical advice for individual conditions or treatments. Talk to your doctor, nurse or pharmacist before following any medical regimen to see if it is safe and effective for you.

© 2014 Truven Health Analytics Inc. Information is for End User's use only and may not be sold, redistributed or otherwise used for commercial purposes. All illustrations and images included in CareNotes® are the copyrighted property of A.D.A.M., Inc. or Truven Health Analytics.

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