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The Hood Magazine

What to Know About Lice

Dec 04, 2022 ● By Jennifer Haggar, MD at Sanford Health

By: Jennifer Haggar, MD at Sanford Health   

Head lice cause a common, generally harmless infestation of tan to gray bugs about the size of a sesame seed. They lay eggs, called nits, that firmly attach to the hair near the scalp. Though stigmatized, lice do not carry disease and are not a sign of poor hygiene.  

Lice can’t jump, don’t infest pets, and can’t live off of the scalp for more than one day. Passed by direct head-to-head contact, lice can be prevented by educating children to avoid sharing combs, hats, and headgear. 

A lice diagnosis does not require special testing but through seeing the eggs, nymphs, or adult lice in the hair. Parents can often diagnose just by looking at home. Lice tend to cluster around the nape of the neck and around the ears. Distinguishing nits and lice from other debris and dandruff is important. Debris and dandruff can easily be brushed off, whereas lice cannot. 

If a child has lice: 

  1. Start treatment with removal and occlusive agents or over-the-counter medications. Discuss the best type with a pharmacist or your child’s physician, as there are several options available 

  2. After treatment, removing all nits from the hair is essential, often by using a special comb. Although time-consuming, this step is one of the most critical ones. Not removing nits can result in infestations when they hatch.  

  3. After treating your child’s hair, wash all bedding and clean hair care items.  

  4. Check all family members for lice and treat if found. 

After treatment: 

  1. Continue to check the child (and family) daily. 

  2. Re-treat and consider a different form of treatment if you find new lice or nits. 

  3. If, after multiple treatments, live lice or nits still exist, contact your child’s physician. Sometimes prescription treatment is necessary.