Head Lice FAQs

Symptoms and Treatment

How can I tell if my child has head lice?

When lice have invaded, the first signal will most likely be your child's incessant scratching. Take a closer look at your child's head and you may actually see the lice. The insects are found most often in the hair above the ears and at the back of the head, just above the neck. More visible though, are the tiny white nits that are found on the hair shaft, just above the scalp. They look like dandruff, but aren't flaky and are difficult to remove -- they won't just pull off easily. If you are uncertain of what you're looking for, ask your child's school nurse or your pediatrician to show you what a nit looks like.

What is the most effective way to get rid of head lice?

If you determine that your child does indeed have head lice, ask your family's pediatrician to recommend a medicated shampoo or cream rinse -- preferably one that's nontoxic. Following the directions on the package, massage the shampoo into your child's hair and scalp for a full ten minutes.

This application will kill the live insects, but the nits -- which are now mostly dead -- will remain firmly attached to the hair. To remove them, comb your child's hair into sections that are one-inch wide, and examine each section thoroughly with a magnifying glass. If you do find a nit, use a fine-toothed comb to pull the nit down to the end of the hair shaft and remove it. (By dipping the comb in a solution of equal parts water and white vinegar, you'll help loosen the natural "glue" that helps the nits cling to the hair shaft.)

Once you've finished with one section, pin it out of the way, and move on to the next. Continue this process until you've inspected your child's entire head. After you've finished the treatment, soak all combs and brushes for an hour in a solution of the medicated shampoo or in very hot water.

If you're concerned about the chemical insecticides in anti-lice shampoos, some physicians recommend "smothering" the lice instead. Rub copious amounts of olive oil into your child's hair and scalp, and cover with a shower cap overnight.

When can he go back to school?

Children may return to school after they've been treated and you find their scalps to be free of nits. However, many school districts around the country have a "no-nit" policy, which means that every single nit must be removed before a child will be readmitted. You can't be sure your child is lice-free, however, until the three-week life cycle of the lice has passed without a reoccurrence.

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