It is every parent’s dreaded four-letter word — lice.
Head lice are tiny parasitic insects found on the scalp (or even in the eyebrows and eyelashes). They are not particularly harmful, but they do spread quickly — particularly among school children.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates there are at least 6 million and up to 12 million infestations each year that affect American children between 3 and 11 years of age. These tiny little insects move by crawling rather than hopping or flying, meaning direct contact is required for transmission.
Contrary to popular belief, personal hygiene has nothing to do with getting head lice, but it pays to understand what you can and should do to protect yourself and your child.
Below is a collection of frequently asked questions and concerns about head lice, and tips for taking action.
What Do Head Lice Look Like?
Head lice (Pediculus humanus capitis) come in three forms: the egg (called a nit), the nymph, and the adult.
Often hard to see, nits resemble tiny oval shaped seeds, yellow to white in color. They are about the size of a knot in thread, and often confused with dandruff or hair spray droplets.
Nits hatch into nymphs, the size of a pinhead.
Within a week, nymphs mature into adults, about the size of a sesame seed.
They are grayish-white in color with six legs; they live for about 30 days on a person’s head, but die within a day or two when separated from the host. Female lice are usually larger than males and can lay as many as six eggs per day. A single insect is called a louse.
Can’t tell if what you are seeing is lice? Contact us! Try to get a well-lit, focused close-up; we will analyze it for you and let you know what we think! A free service from Hair Fairies to you.
Who Is at Risk for Getting Head Lice?
Lice exist throughout the world. They are most commonly found in children attending daycare, preschool, and elementary school (ages 3-11). Anyone who comes into direct contact with a person who has head lice, or with an object contaminated with lice or eggs, is at risk for getting lice. African Americans seem to get lice at a lower rate. Girls get head lice more often than boys.
Where Are Lice Most Commonly Found?
Lice are found almost exclusively on the scalp, near the neckline, and around the ears. Lice and nits can sometimes be found on the eyebrows or eyelashes, but it is less common. Lice can also be transferred from direct contact with contaminated bedding, furniture, or clothing. Pets do not spread head lice.
What Are the Symptoms of a Lice Infestation?
Because head lice are most commonly found on the scalp, this is where most people experience symptoms. One of the first signs of head lice is a tickling sensation, like something is moving in the hair. Some people experience itching caused by an allergic reaction to lice bites, and some have trouble sleeping due to itching and lice movement at night. Occasionally, sores can develop on the head caused by intense scratching, and they may become infected with bacteria found on the skin.
How Did My Child Get Head Lice? How Is It Spread?
Lice are spread through head-to-head contact. This typically occurs during play at school, on playgrounds, at home, at friends’ houses, or at camp. Personal hygiene or cleanliness in the home or school has nothing to do with getting head lice. (They love clean kids!)
Less common ways lice can spread include:
- Wearing clothing, such as hats, scarves, coats, sports uniforms, or hair ribbons recently worn by an infested person
- Using infested combs, brushes or towels
- Using a bed, pillow, or sleeping bag recently used by someone with lice, or by touching a carpet or stuffed animal where that person has been
If One of My Children Has Lice, Will the Other(s) Get Them, Too?
It is not a 100% guarantee that your other children will get lice, but the risk is very high. In 80% of cases, a child passes head lice to siblings or parents. In about 20% of cases when men get lice, it is from their kids. 35% of nannies get lice from the children they care for.
Should I Be Embarrassed If My Child Gets Lice?
Not at all. Head lice are extremely common and highly contagious — they do not discriminate across demographics. Lice actually love clean hair, so the myth that they only infest children who keep their hair dirty is untrue. A lice infestation can be disturbing, but it is not a health hazard and there is a very low likelihood of transmitting any disease. If you are not sure where to turn, trust a Hair Fairies salon to handle the issue quickly, discretely, and guilt-free.
How Do You Diagnose a Lice Infestation?
A lice infestation can generally be diagnosed visually. Check the hair, particularly close to the scalp; look for live adult lice, as well as nits or eggs. In the early stages of an infestation, it may be more difficult to make a diagnosis with a small number of insects moving quickly through the hair. The quickest way to get a diagnosis is by trusting a trained professional — such as a Hair Fairies technician — who can identify exactly what is occurring.
If Diagnosed, Does My Child Need to Stay Home from School?
It used to be commonplace for children infested with head lice to be kept home from school — it was known as a “no-nit” policy. Today, however, it is usually recommended that the child complete the school day and then go home for treatment. As long as the child starts treatment, they can return to school the next day (but should avoid head-to-head contact with other children).
Are Over-The-Counter Remedies or Home Remedies Effective?
Not really, and some can be harmful. The Harvard School of Public Health has stated that head lice are “resistant to permethrin and lindane” (toxic lice-fighting products now banned in California). The National Pediculosis Association (NPA) advises parents to discontinue use of head lice pesticides, which have been associated anecdotally with seizures, behavioral changes, learning issues, cancer, and skin diseases.
Are There Any Professional Treatments Available?
Yes! If you are looking for a professional service to get rid of head lice, try Hair Fairies. With numerous convenient locations and online booking, you can get rid of head lice quickly and easily without struggling to do all the work yourself.
Can Lice Live on Clothing, Bedding, or Animals?
Adult lice typically only live for a day or two after being separated from the host. This being said, they can be transferred from clothing, bedding, or furniture to a new host if they are still alive. Your dogs, cats, and other pets cannot spread lice to you (or you to them).
Is There Anything I Can Do to Prevent My Child from Getting Lice?
Yes! Regular screenings in school and at home will help you catch the problem before it develops.
This fact sheet is for informative use only and is not meant to be used for self-diagnosis or as a substitute for consultation with a health care provider.