Head lice are tiny parasitic bugs that can infest the skin. They live in people’s heads and feed on their blood. Head lice can cause intense itching.
There are two other types of lice: body lice and pubic lice. This health sheet will focus on head lice.
Head lice are very contagious. They spread from person to person by close body contact, and by shared clothes and other personal items. These can include things such as hats, hairbrushes, and combs.
Head lice are seen mostly in child care settings and among school-aged children. It doesn’t matter how clean your child’s hair or your home may be. It doesn’t matter where children and families live, play, or work.
The most common symptom of head lice is itching. The itching can be very bad, especially at night. Lice or their eggs (nits) can usually be seen on the hair, behind the ears, or on the neck. They can even be seen in the eyebrows and eyelashes.
The eggs laid by lice can usually be seen. This makes it easy for your child's healthcare provider to diagnose.
Treatment will depend on your child’s symptoms, age, and general health. It will also depend on how severe the condition is.
Lice are treatable. Treatment will include applying a medicated cream rinse or shampoo to your child’s hair. Many head lice medicines are available over the counter. Your child’s healthcare provider may prescribe a medicine if the OTC medicines did not work for your child.
Talk with your healthcare provider about which rinse or shampoo would be best for your child. Do not use two forms of treatment at the same time. If one treatment does not work, use a different treatment or call your healthcare provider for advice.
In addition to the medicated cream rinse or shampoo, treatment may also include:
Children can return to school or daycare the day after their first treatment for head lice.
You can help prevent head lice by: