What to Do About Head Lice

What to Do About Head Lice

Every parent dreads that call from the school: You need to come pick up your child. They have head lice. 

Your initial reactions may be panic and dread. You may have concerns about who else has head lice and all the cleaning you have ahead of you to disinfect your home. 

At Associated Skin Care Specialists, our highly skilled board-certified dermatologists provide expert medical dermatology care for common contagious conditions like head lice. Yes, you do need to take care of the infestation, but treatment may not be as bad as you think.

So, before you strip all the beds and gather every washable item in your home, we want to tell you what you can do about head lice. 

About head lice

Head lice, scientifically known as Pediculus humanus capitis, are tiny parasitic insects that live on the human scalp, usually around the neckline or behind the ears. They survive by feeding off human blood. However, unlike other blood-sucking insects, head lice aren't thought to spread disease.

Every year, head lice infestations affect millions of people all over the United States. Though anyone can get head lice, it’s more common in preschool- and elementary-aged children. 

Despite the misconceptions surrounding head lice, personal hygiene and cleanliness can’t prevent an infestation.  

How you get head lice

Head lice move from place to place by crawling. These insects can’t fly or hop, but they can crawl very fast. You get head lice when you come in direct head-to-head contact with someone who has them.

Your child most likely got head lice by placing their head on or near another child infested with the insects. This might happen at recess, during naptime, or at a sleepover. 

It’s less common to spread head lice by sharing combs, hats, or hair accessories. Head lice need to feed off human blood every 12 to 24 hours and can’t survive more than a day on objects, including bed sheets. 

If your child’s scalp itches, it’s likely head lice, as that’s the most common symptom of the insects’ presence. However, you can have head lice for up to six weeks before you start to feel itchy. 

If you have concerns about head lice, you can do an at-home scalp check. First, wet the hair and inspect the scalp in sections under a bright light, looking for adult lice or their eggs, known as nits.

Adult lice

Adult lice are brown in color and no larger than a sesame seed. They usually stay close to the scalp and move quickly.

Nits

You may be more likely to see nits than the adult insects when looking for head lice. Nits may be tan, brown, or yellow in color and look like tiny seeds attached to the hair near the scalp. Unlike dandruff or dirt, nits remain on the shaft of the hair after combing.

Treating head lice

You can use an over-the-counter or prescription head lice treatment to get rid of an infestation. No matter what product you choose, be sure to use the shampoo or lotion as directed on the label. 

After rinsing out the hair treatment, use the lice comb that comes with your kit to remove dead adult lice and nits. Recheck the hair and scalp about 8 to 12 hours after the initial lice treatment. 

If there’s still a lot of lice activity, schedule a consultation with one of our medical dermatologists.

It’s possible you may need a different type of medication to get rid of the head lice, and we can help you get the right one.

Don’t wash the hair for at least two days following head lice treatment. Continue to use the lice comb to remove adult insects and eggs. You may need to retreat the scalp one week after the initial treatment.

In addition to treating the scalp and hair, we also recommend washing pillow cases, hats, and any other object that may have come in contact with the head lice in hot water. Since head lice can’t live too long off the scalp, there’s no need to disinfect the entire house. 

If you need help managing your infestation, schedule an appointment at one of our dermatology clinics. We have offices in Blaine, Eden Prairie, Maple Grove, and Coon Rapids, Minnesota. Make an appointment using our convenient online scheduling tool by following the above links or by calling our office today. 

For your convenience, we also provide telemedicine appointments

We also have offices in Fridley and Brighton, Minnesota, to address your dermatology needs.

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