How do you know if your child
has head lice?
Head lice are small grey insects
about ¼ in long. They live only on human scalps. (There
are other kinds of lice that prefer other hairy
locations). They move very quickly and are very
difficult to spot. They attach their eggs, known as
“nits” to a single strand of hair. Nits are straw
colored and about 1mm long. That’s about the size of a
comma on this page. You generally find nits within ½ in
of the scalp near the nape of the neck. Look for nits by
having you child bend forward with their head in their
lap; then part and search near the roots of the hair at
the hairline of the neck. Sometimes you will notice
redness and scratch marks (excoriations) on the neck.
The lice bite the skin there causing some kids to be
What should I do if my child is
exposed to someone with lice?
Lice cannot fly or jump. They only
crawl. They are not usually motivated to leave the warm
scalp they inhabit. That being said, they do end up one
way or another on someone else’s head. If your child has
been in contact with another child with lice, keep a
look out for nits in your child’s hair. Preteating with
medications does not seem to be helpful. Keeping long
hair neatly tied back, teaching your children not to
share combs, brushes, hair accessories or hats will help
limit the transfer of lice from one head to another.
What do I do when I find nits on
Do not panic! Dealing with lice is
inconvenient. They are not a health hazard. There are
many products available over the counter at your
pharmacy to take care of the lice. The nits must be
removed by hand.
What is the best product to use
to kill lice?
The products available over the
counter to kill lice are insecticides. They kill lice
and kill the nits (the egss won’t hatch). These products
do not loosen the dead nit from the hair shaft. The most
widely used products contain Permethrin or
Pyrethrin. They may come as shampoos, cream rinses
or mousses. READ AND FOLLOW THE PACKAGE DIRECTIONS
VERY CAREFULLY ! Some products are applied to dry
hair and other products to wet hair. The time the
product must remain on the hair varies. (Your regular
cream rinse may coat the nit and affect how the product
penetrates. Wash the hair with a plain shampoo to remove
any cream rinse residue before applying the lice-control
product. Dry if necessary before product application).
The product is usually repeated in 7 to 10 days to catch
any immature lice that might have hatched after the
How do I know the lice are gone?
Since it is hard to find live lice
on a scalp, often the only sign of their persistence is
the appearance of new nits. That means you have to be
very dedicated to removing the old nits after the
application of a lice control product.
How do I get rid of the nits?
Getting rid of nits is
time-consuming and tedious. Each nit must be pulled off
the hair shaft. Specially designed fine toothed metal
combs may help isolate the hairs, others prefer to pull
the nits off with their fingers. There are nit removal
aids available from your pharmacy. These are supposed to
loosen the adhesive binding the nit to the hair shaft,
making the nit easier to pull off. Vinegar may also
loosen the adhesive. You still have to pull each nit off
Why bother nit-picking?
There are some lice populations
whose nits seem resistant to the lice-control products
mentioned above. The lice are gone, but the nits still
hatch and your child is infested again. If you remove
the nits, that problem is solved. Getting rid of the
nits also lets you quickly assess if new nits appear
indicating recurrent lice infestation. Many
pediatricians feel being overly aggressive with nit
removal is unwarranted as the nits usually do die with
treatment. However, Harford County Schools do support a
No Nit Policy for a child to return to school.
When is my child no longer
capable of sharing lice?
Immediately after treatment with
one of the above mentioned lice-control products (pediculocides),
the lice are dead.