700 Children's® – A Blog by Pediatric Experts

How to Get Rid of Head Lice

May 01, 2015

“Mommy, my head itches!” Not the words you want to hear from your child, because it usually means one thing- head lice.

The American Academy of Pediatrics recently released a statement that children with head lice do not need to be kept home from school which understandably has many parents worried. Here are answers to some of the most commonly asked questions about head lice.

What are head lice?
Head lice are tiny, 6-legged insects about this long (-). They are either grayish-white or red, if they are filled with blood. They do not have wings, so they get around by jumping quickly from one surface to the next which can make them difficult to find and catch.

When someone has head lice, what you typically see are nits, or tiny yellowish-white lice eggs. Nits can look a lot like dandruff and are usually found close to the scalp, at the back of the neck or behind the ears.

How can my child get lice?
Lice are passed from child to child by sharing hats, scarves, combs, brushes, or helmets, or from clothing that has the nits or lice on it. One big thing to note, lice are not a sign of bad hygiene. Lice actually prefer clean hair as it is easier to attach their eggs to.

How do I treat lice?
Lice can be treated at home with an over-the-counter treatment such as RID or NIX. Wash your child’s hair with a conditioner free shampoo and towel dry prior to using these treatments.  For step-by-step instructions on how to use NIX, check out our Helping Hand.

These treatments are best used in conjunction with white vinegar, as it helps to loosen nits from the scalp.

Once the first treatment is complete, be sure to follow these steps to ensure the lice do not return:

  • If you see live lice 10 days or more after the first treatment, a second treatment may be needed.
  • Check the hair and scalp of all family members every day by combing the hair until no live lice or nits are found for 10 days.
  • Don’t use hair conditioner for 10 days.
  • Head lice can live away from the human body for 2-3 days, and nits (eggs) can take 1-2 weeks to hatch.  To avoid spreading these lice, be sure to wash all items you can (clothing, bedding, etc.) in hot water and dry on high heat for at least 30 minutes. Non-washable items (pillows, stuffed animals, etc.) can be put in the dryer for at least 30 minutes or sealed in a plastic bag for 2 weeks.

When does my child need to see a doctor?
You typically do not need to see a doctor if you have head lice. However, if you notice any of the following, please consult your provider or report to an urgent care or emergency department immediately:

  • Your child still has lice after 2 treatments
  • Open, oozing sores on scalp
  • Fever and/or enlarged lymph nodes in the neck

How do I prevent head lice?

  • Teach your child to “Never Share What Touches the Hair.” Never share combs, brushes, hats, scarves, hair accessories, helmets, pillows, etc.
  • Check your child’s hair often during the school year, especially when the school tells parents there is a lice problem.
  • Have your child bathe or shower every day. Shampoo the hair 2 or 3 times a week.

Featured Expert

Nationwide Children's Hospital Medical Professional
Mike Patrick, MD
Emergency Medicine; Host of PediaCast

Dr. Mike Patrick is an Assistant Professor of Pediatrics at the Ohio State University College of Medicine and Medical Director of Interactive Media for Nationwide Children's Hospital. Since 2006, he has hosted the award-winning PediaCast, a pediatric podcast for parents. Dr. Mike also produces a national podcast for healthcare providers—PediaCast CME, which explores general pediatric and faculty development topics and offers free AMA PRA Category 1 Credit™ to listeners.

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700 Children’s® features the most current pediatric health care information and research from our pediatric experts – physicians and specialists who have seen it all. Many of them are parents and bring a special understanding to what our patients and families experience. If you have a child – or care for a child – 700 Children’s was created especially for you.