Does my child have head lice?

Everyone’s heard of head lice.  They’re nasty little things and it seems like they can invade without any warning.  They’re very common for children to have – especially kid’s ages 3 to 12, with girls having them more often than boys.  So what are they? They’re wingless parasitic insects that live among human hair and feed on small amounts of blood from the scalp.  They’re not dangerous and aren’t spreaders of disease, but they are contagious and bothersome.  They cause inflammation and itching on the scalp and because of the scratching and potential damage to the scalp due to this, many times infection can start.

What are the symptoms?

Even though lice are very small, they can be seen when you look closely.  You’ll likely only see nits (lice eggs) at first, which look like yellow, tan, or brown spots close to the scalp.  Symptoms include scratching and itching of the scalp, as well as small, red bumps or sores from scratching.

How are they treated?

Your doctor may recommend a medicated shampoo, lotion, or rinse to kill the lice.  Many of these are over the counter, but depending on the severity and the treatments already tried, prescribed treatments may be needed.  In addition, if these treatments do not work, oral medicines may be prescribed. After treatment, your doctor will probably require combing out the nits to prevent any new hatching.

How do I stop them from coming back?

Lice aren’t your friends and you definitely don’t want them coming back for a visit.  So, in order to prevent a reinfestation, there are some tools to help:

  • Wash bed and clothing items that have been infected in hot water, at least 104 degrees or have them dry cleaned
  • Vacuum all carpets and rugs in the home
  • Throw away old hair ties, barrettes, combs, or brushes, or soak them in rubbing alcohol for medicated shampoo for at least an hour

It’s very important to have head lice diagnosed, as they can spread quickly, especially in large group setting such as schools, camps, day cares, etc.  So, if you think your child may have them, see your doctor immediately to see if an infestation has occurred.