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Head Lice: Symptoms, Treatments, and Prevention

Head Lice: Symptoms, Treatments, and Prevention Can

Head lice are parasitic bugs that feed off human blood and infect the hair. Although lice are wingless and cannot jump, their claws enable them to crawl and cling to hair. Lice are very contagious and spread quickly, especially in a group setting, such as school, childcare, and slumber parties. They are often an issue for children and can be challenging to eliminate.

Most lice infections come from head-to-head contact and have nothing to do with hygiene. While they are annoying, lice do not cause disease and aren’t dangerous.

If you think your child has lice, here are the steps you should take to check them, treat the lice, and prevent them from coming back.

Signs of Head Lice

Head lice are small and fast, so it is unlikely that you will see one directly on your child’s head. Also, itchiness is often one of the last symptoms of head lice and may not occur until weeks later, depending on your child’s sensitivity. Your child may complain of a tickling feeling from hair movement.

Nits (lice eggs) are the most common sign of head lice. They are difficult to see because they are tiny and are often mistaken for dirt or dandruff. However, they are not easily brushed out of the hair like dandruff.

To find head lice, wet the hair of the infected person to prevent lice from scurrying and make it easier to see the lice. Using a bright light and fine-tooth comb, divide hair into sections. Starting at the scalp, slowly comb the hair to search for signs of lice. They are often easiest to spot at the nape of the neck and around the ears.

If you suspect a lice infestation, see your doctor. You can also ask a school or childcare center nurse to look and confirm lice.

Treatments for Head Lice

Lice are typically treated by medicine and manually removing nits. Many medicated shampoos, lotions, and cream rinses kill lice and their eggs. Many are over-the-counter (OTC), but your doctor may prescribe stronger medicine. Ensure that any OTC is appropriate for your child’s age.

There are some areas where lice have built a resistance to certain medications, and they no longer work against lice. Check with your doctor or pharmacist to see which are most effective. In some particularly tough cases, your physician may prescribe a medicine taken by mouth to kill the lice.

Parents who are hesitant to use medication may opt to remove lice and nits manually. If you are using a medication, you will still need to manually remove some lice, as no medicine kills them completely. In addition, no medication is safe for infants 2 months or under, so it is the only option for young babies.

To manually remove lice and nits, take a fine-tooth comb to wet and conditioned hair every 3-4 days for three weeks after seeing the last live louse. Conditioning hair makes it easier to comb through.

How to Prevent Head Lice

Getting rid of lice is a tedious process and can be frustrating. Some ways to ensure that they do not come back are:

  • Wash everything used up to two days before treatment. This includes bed linens, clothing, and stuffed animals. Use a hot water wash and put them in the dryer for at least 20 minutes.
  • Put items that cannot be washed in an airtight bag for two weeks.
  • Soak all hair-care items in hot water or throw them away. This includes hair ties and bands, headbands, brushes, barrettes, and combs.
  • Vacuum all carpets and upholstered furniture in your home and car. Throw away the vacuum cleaner bag.
  • Check everyone in your home for lice every three to four days and treat everyone together to avoid passing it around.
  • Encourage your child to avoid head-to-head contact at school or while playing with other children.

If your child still has lice 2 weeks after starting a treatment or you suspect that your child has a scalp infection, contact your provider right away.

While your child may be embarrassed, encourage them that anyone can get head lice, and it’s not a sign of poor hygiene. It can be a frustrating battle, so be patient. Keep up with treatment and prevention practices, and your family will eventually be lice-free.

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