Head Lice

If your child comes home with head lice, you may have a lot of questions. It’s important to keep in mind that head lice are treatable with care, time, and patience. Speak with your health care provider or pharmacist before using any chemical shampoos if:

  • You are pregnant or breastfeeding.
  • Your child is under two years of age, has asthma, or allergies.

How do you get head lice?A girl scratching her head.

  • Direct head-to-head contact.
  • Through indirect contact with shared items such as combs, brushes, hats, helmets, headphones, bedding, towels, and stuffed animals.

How do I check for head lice?

  • Lice are small and move fast, so they can be hard to spot. Good lighting and a magnifying glass may be helpful.
  • Nits are oval, whitish-grey, tan or yellow, and about the size of a grain of sand usually attached to the hair shaft. Adult lice are about the size of a sesame seed.
  • To look for nits, part hair in small sections, moving from one side of the head to the other. Look close to the scalp. Lice are usually found near the scalp, behind the ears and at the bottom of the neck.
  • If you only find nits and no lice, check again every day for 1 week to make sure that you did not miss any live lice.

How do you treat head lice?

  • Use the specific recommended shampoo/conditioner treatments and then wet combing the entire head to remove all lice/nits
  • Wet combing method used alone every 3-4 days is non-chemical but less effective.

Should I sterilize the entire house every time my child comes home with head lice?

  • Wash combs, brushes, towels, and anything else used during treatment with hot soapy water.
  • Wash items used in the past two days (clothes, hats, pillowcases, sheets, and stuffed animals).
  • Seal items that cannot be washed in a plastic bag for two weeks.
  • Vacuum or wash your child's car seat cover.
  • Vacuum mattresses and floors to pick up stray lice or eggs.
  • Excessive cleaning is not needed.
  • Do not use insecticide sprays.

Do I have to treat everyone in the house for head lice?

  • Only people who have head lice should be treated.
  • Pets do not get head lice.

How do you prevent head lice?

  • Check your child’s head routinely for head lice.
  • Discourage children from sharing clothing, towels, and combs.
  • Tea tree oil and hair styling products such as hair gel or mousse have not been proven effective in prevention of head lice.