Lice are tiny, wingless, parasitic insects that feed on your blood. Lice are easily spread — especially by schoolchildren — through close personal contact and by sharing belongings.
Several types of lice exist:
You or your child can have good personal hygiene habits and still get lice. Unless treated properly, this condition can become a recurring problem.
Head lice occur on the scalp and are easiest to see at the nape of the neck and over the ears. Small nits (eggs) resembling tiny pussy willow buds about the size of dandruff flakes are visible on ...
Signs and symptoms of lice include:
When to see a doctor
However, see your doctor if:
Head lice occur on the scalp and are easiest to see at the nape of the neck and over the ears. Small oval nits (eggs) resembling tiny pussy willow buds are visible on the hair shafts. ...
You can get lice by coming into contact with either lice or their eggs. Eggs hatch in about one week. Lice can't fly or walk on the ground. They spread through:
Preparing for your appointment
Often, you can get rid of lice with over-the-counter treatments and by properly washing contaminated household items, such as sheets, towels and clothes. If these measures don't work, see your primary care medical provider.
Because appointments can be brief, and because there's often a lot of ground to cover, it's a good idea to be well prepared for your appointment. Here's some information to help you get ready for your appointment, and know what to expect from your doctor.
What you can do
Some basic questions to ask your doctor include:
In addition to the questions that you've prepared to ask your doctor, don't hesitate to ask questions during your appointment when you don't understand something.
What to expect from your doctor
What you can do in the meantime
If you think or know you have a pubic lice infestation, also avoid sexual activity until you've been treated.
Tests and diagnosis
During an examination, your doctor may examine you for lice using a magnifying lens and check for nits using a special light, called a Wood's light, which makes the nits look pale blue.
If you don't see any live lice or you see nits that are more than 1/4 inch away from the scalp, the infestation is no longer active and you don't need treatment.
Treatments and drugs
Use medications that treat lice only as directed. Applying too much can cause red, irritated skin.
Lifestyle and home remedies
You can get rid of lice with a patient, thorough approach that involves cleaning yourself or your child and any personal belongings that may be contaminated.
These steps may help you eliminate lice infestations:
It's difficult to prevent the spread of head lice among children in child care and school settings. There's so much close contact among children and their belongings that lice can spread easily. It's no reflection on your hygiene habits or those of your children, and it's not a failure on your part as a parent if your child gets head lice.
Some over-the-counter products claim to repel lice, but more scientific research is needed to prove their safety and effectiveness.
A number of small studies have shown that ingredients in some of these products — mostly plant oils such as rosemary, citronella, eucalyptus, tea tree and lemon grass — may work to repel lice. However, these products are classified as "natural" so they aren't regulated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), and their safety and effectiveness haven't been tested to FDA standards.
Until more research proves the effectiveness of head lice prevention products, the best approach is simply to take thorough steps to get rid of the lice — and their eggs — so that you don't have more lice to deal with.
However, it's not realistic to expect that you and your child can eliminate all the types of contact that may result in the spread of lice.
Your child may have nits in his or her hair but not necessarily develop a case of head lice. Some nits are empty eggs. However, nits that are found within 1/4 inch (6.4 millimeters) of the scalp should be treated — even if you find only one — to prevent the possibility of hatching. Nits that are farther away from the scalp are probably from an old infestation and don't need to be treated.
Last Updated: 2012-05-22
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