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Does My Child Have Head Lice? Yikes!

Updated on June 2, 2012

treatments for head lice

Head lice! If you want a quick lesson in the power of suggestion, just start a conversation about head lice in a group of people and watch closely for their reaction. You’ll notice that they all gradually begin to start scratching their heads. It practically never fails! Just the thought of vermin crawling on our bodies is enough to give most of us the willies, and it seems even worse when the critters are crawling around - and breeding - on our heads. I mean, that's so close to our faces!

Actually, there are three types of lice that feed on human blood – head lice, pubic lice, and body lice. They’re three separate species, although they’re similar in appearance and habit. Head lice is the most common species in the US. In fact, it’s very common, especially in schools. Luckily, head lice pose no threat of disease, but they’re still nasty. Most parents are horrified when they discover that their children have lice. If you're not sure what lice look like, refer to the head lice photos below.

How do kids get head lice?

It’s very easy for kids to get head lice. They’re spread from child to child by sharing combs, hairbrushes, hats, caps, and coats. Young children often nap side by side at school, so the lice have a human buffet. They can crawl at will from one young head to another, in order to feed and breed. They're like little opportunistic vampires.

Let’s say a kid with lice leans his head against a wall, and a louse climbs onto the wall. Your kid is behind that one in line and leans his head against the same spot. Voila! Your child now has a louse. And if it’s a pregnant female (which I’m convinced they all are), it’s going to lay eggs in your child’s hair. Then the lice could infest your entire family and your home once they hatch!

How do I know if my child has lice?

If you notice your child scratching his head frequently, he might have head lice. The lice themselves are hard to see because they’re so quick, but you can look for the eggs, which are called nits.

Nits are tiny tear-shaped eggs that are glued to the hair shaft by the female louse. Before they hatch, they’re brown. After they’ve hatched, the eggs are cream colored. Refer to the pictures below.

When searching your child’s head for nits, part the hair into small sections and look closely. The nits can be anywhere on the head, but the favorite spots are the nape of the neck and behind the ears. Freshly laid eggs will usually be near the scalp.

Treatments for head lice

Head lice treatments are readily available, but some are better than others. Commercial preparations in the form of shampoos will kill any live lice and most of the unhatched eggs. There are also some natural head lice treatments. Sometimes it might require several treatments for head lice. Check the date on lice shampoo. If the shampoo has expired, you might as well use plain water.

After you've used the treatments head lice, the nits must be removed manually. You can buy a special fine toothed comb for nit removal, or you can use your fingernails. Each nit must be stripped from the hair shaft. Place the nits in a container of bleach, in case some haven’t hatched yet.

Further treatments for head lice include washing all bedding in hot water and placing in the dryer. If the infestation was heavy, you might have to “bomb” your house with an insecticide to kill any head lice that might be in the carpet, on the furniture, and in other spots.

Combs and brushes also need to be washed in boiling water to make sure any lice are killed. Also, it’s important not to send your kids back to school until they’re free of lice. If you send an infected child back to school too soon, the problem could become a virtual head lice epidemic.

Head lice don’t discriminate between rich and poor. Like the old Southern adage goes, “It’s no shame to get lice, but it’s shameful to keep ‘em!” In view of the fairly simple treatments for head lice, I'll have to agree. Anyone can get head lice, and an infestation is not necessarily a sign of poverty or neglect. It's more a matter of being in the wrong place at just the right time. Most people also assume that head lice are found only in dirty hair and on dirty heads, which isn't true. According to my doctor, the head lice actually do better in clean hair because the "glue" works better for attaching the nits or eggs. With oily hair, the glue doesn't work as well.

An adult head louse.
An adult head louse.
Nits that haven't yet hatched.
Nits that haven't yet hatched.
Eggs that have already hatched.
Eggs that have already hatched.

What do head lice look like?

Natural head lice treatment:

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    • habee profile image
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      Holle Abee 5 years ago from Georgia

      Diana, we once had the same problem with my oldest daughter and her thick, long hair. We kept using head lice treatments - to no avail. I finally decided the head lice shampoo was old and out of date. I bought some from a different drug store and it did the trick!

    • habee profile image
      Author

      Holle Abee 5 years ago from Georgia

      Kimberly, that's a great point. ANYONE can get head lice!

    • profile image

      robert 5 years ago

      you see this girl she haves head lice from.a black kid

    • profile image

      Diana 6 years ago

      I have been for 5 days trying to get rid of my daughter's lice. Her hair is thick enough for 10 people, I took her to the doctor today he said since using 4 different of the best shampoos to treat the lice didn't work on her, I am now considering "CUTTING" her hair REAL SHORT, It kills me to have to do that bc her hair is BEAUTIFUL, but she has special needs and will not know the difference but I will. I have to get rid of these critters though, they are disgusting and I have never had to deal with them before!! Can you say YUCK!!

    • profile image

      kimberlyh32 6 years ago

      Good article. A lot of people have the misconception that children who get lice are not being properly cared for by their parents. That is not the case. Anyone can easily get lice. The problem occurs when it is not treated and when other parents are not informed that their children may have come into contact with the lice. I am glad you shared this knowledge and will certainly keep it in mind should I ever expierience this problem with my own family.

    • jamiesweeney profile image

      jamiesweeney 6 years ago from Philadelphia, PA

      Thanks for the information.

    • habee profile image
      Author

      Holle Abee 6 years ago from Georgia

      Shannon, been there, done that!

    • ShannonSays profile image

      ShannonSays 6 years ago

      Yuck! I hate lice! We had an infestation at our home and what an exhausting, disgusting experience. I have two daughters with long, thick hair, messy rooms, and tons of stuffed buddies. Needless to say, in addition to the delousing, we're now sporting shorter hair, have cleaner rooms, and the Very Important Buddies are on their Very Important Shelves instead of on the bed! I'm with BJ, the photos will stay with me for a long time! Important, albiet yucky, hub. Thanks!

    • habee profile image
      Author

      Holle Abee 6 years ago from Georgia

      BJ, head lice are so creepy to me!

    • BJBenson profile image

      BJBenson 6 years ago from USA

      I had to help a friend once when her kid had them. Then I had to do her head too. I itched for days! The picture were great. I hope I forget them, they scare me.

    • habee profile image
      Author

      Holle Abee 6 years ago from Georgia

      Wow - that's a miracle!!

    • bayoulady profile image

      bayoulady 6 years ago from Northern Louisiana,USA

      Yep. It's that time again ! Having recently retired from teaching elem. school, and dealing with this year in and year out, I don't know how I managed to avoid them. Just glad I did.Great pictures, and I'm sure this will be extremely helpful to first timers!

    • habee profile image
      Author

      Holle Abee 7 years ago from Georgia

      Lol, Wendy! Thanks!

    • WeNdYpOoPoO profile image

      WeNdYpOoPoO 7 years ago from Hudson Valley NY

      I remember I got head lice as a teen so embarrassing I had hair to my butt I stood in the front yard and made my mom cut all my hair off. There was no way she was dragging that nit comb which back then was metal through my long hair ohh no. Great Hub.

    • habee profile image
      Author

      Holle Abee 7 years ago from Georgia

      Totally common, Mary alice! Any kid can come home with head lice!

    • habee profile image
      Author

      Holle Abee 7 years ago from Georgia

      Funny, Blue! Good time to be bald, huh?

    • MarieAlice profile image

      MarieAlice 7 years ago from Peru

      Dear Habbe: I have 4 kids and believe me, even when I am really careful with them they always come with head lice!! i hate this, is really disgusting and I hate cleaning their heads. In the market we have good products that help us fight agaimst the lice but there are some natural remedies too(like a vinegar rinse). Anyways, thanks for letting us understand that is a common thing between kids!!

    • Bluehoop profile image

      Bluehoop 7 years ago

    • Bluehoop profile image

      Bluehoop 7 years ago

      Good hub! We've just treated our whole family with some gunk to rid ourselves of them. Me included, even though I'm a bit of a baldie and there isn't much for them to cling onto.

    • habee profile image
      Author

      Holle Abee 7 years ago from Georgia

      Kat, I think we all react that way when our kids come home with lice!

    • kat_thurston profile image

      kat_thurston 7 years ago

      I know this is touchy subject I remember when my kids had it I was mortified and embrassed. we never had to deal with this until they started school. I check their heads every single day now. It's just something that has to be dealt with and then you have to be aware of it all the time. Every night after their baths I go through their heads and check just to make sure it's a hassel but if it helps to ensure they don't get it anymore it's worth it

    • habee profile image
      Author

      Holle Abee 7 years ago from Georgia

      Wow! Thanks for the kind words, Johnny!

    • habee profile image
      Author

      Holle Abee 7 years ago from Georgia

      I'm glad we solved that mystery, HH!

    • kowality profile image

      kowality 7 years ago from Everywhere

      You are an amazing Woman. These are well written hubs and OMG the volume in such a short time. You go Girl!!! Thanks habee

    • Hello, hello, profile image

      Hello, hello, 7 years ago from London, UK

      Thank you, habee, and yes, I think you are right. I don't know it all over sudden nickeled me. But there you are.

    • habee profile image
      Author

      Holle Abee 7 years ago from Georgia

      Eww, Lockerman - I hadn't thought about nurses' having to deal with them!

    • habee profile image
      Author

      Holle Abee 7 years ago from Georgia

      Thank gosh it's curable, Audrey!

    • habee profile image
      Author

      Holle Abee 7 years ago from Georgia

      Lynda, my oldest daughter has enough hair for five people, so it was heck when she got them as a kid!!

    • habee profile image
      Author

      Holle Abee 7 years ago from Georgia

      I'm scratching mine, too, NAncy!! lol

    • habee profile image
      Author

      Holle Abee 7 years ago from Georgia

      MEjones, I don't know much about body lice, thank goodness!

    • Tammy Lochmann profile image

      Tammy Lochmann 7 years ago

      ewww...flashbacks...we would get patients completely infested with them and it would be a fight to treat them and get all those nits out. I hope my kids never get them.

    • akirchner profile image

      Audrey Kirchner 7 years ago from Central Oregon

      Oh GOSH I miss that! My daughter got it at school and then I happened to use her hairbrush when she was oh about 7 - what a nightmare! Then the boys got it - the only one who didn't get it was Bob with one 'o' - of course! Ah well - as in most things - it is curable...

    • Lynda Gary profile image

      Lynda Gary 7 years ago

      good article, habee!

      I remember when they used to shave kids' heads, back when I was in elementary school. And I remember my grandma checking me during the break-outs. I hated it LOL

      Too, I remember when my daughter -- with her thick, long beautiful hair -- got lice. Thank God they'd invented the OTC lice kits by then!

      Those pictues -- oh, my! Gave me the creeps, girl. LOL

    • nancy_30 profile image

      nancy_30 7 years ago from Georgia

      Thank you for this informative hub. I remember having them a couple of times as a kid. I hated them, but it was one of the things you couldn't help when you went to school and were around a lot of kids all the time. It seemed like every year someone would get them and spread them to others. When my sister was in school I remember the teachers passing out papers warning the parents when a case of head lice was discovered. Just reading this hub is making me want to scratch my head.

    • MEjones profile image

      MEjones 7 years ago

      Great hub. You are very right too! Hey, could you make a hub about Body Lice? I would like to learn more about that, too.

    • habee profile image
      Author

      Holle Abee 7 years ago from Georgia

      HH, I think they used to use kerosine here??

    • habee profile image
      Author

      Holle Abee 7 years ago from Georgia

      I understand your reaction, Pam!

    • habee profile image
      Author

      Holle Abee 7 years ago from Georgia

      Here's to hoping you never do, Veronica!

    • Hello, hello, profile image

      Hello, hello, 7 years ago from London, UK

      Thank you, habee, for an itchy time. I try to remember what they use in the older days. I had them as a kid because after thear you didn't have a chance in hell not to have them. My grandmother said to my mother, "I think you you littlen has lice". Whereby I said, "Oh nan they don't anything, they just bite a bit". My mother hi the roof. She put something on on head and wrapped a towel around for a while and then washed it out. Any idea what it was?

    • habee profile image
      Author

      Holle Abee 7 years ago from Georgia

      Thanks, Voice!

    • habee profile image
      Author

      Holle Abee 7 years ago from Georgia

      Hi, Robert! Yep, I guess they'll always be with us!

    • Pamela99 profile image

      Pamela Oglesby 7 years ago from United States

      Habee, I remember the first time one of my boys had head lice. Over half his school class had the lice and they didn't tell anyone for a few days. I was livid and let them know! Of course, you just treat them but to not be informed was over the top as far as I was concerned. I think I might be a little calmer person these days. Good hub.

    • Veronica Allen profile image

      Veronica Allen 7 years ago from Georgia

      This hub made me itch Habee - But it is so necessary. Thanks for the pictures. I've never actually seen lice before so this will help me if I come across them.

    • thevoice profile image

      thevoice 7 years ago from carthage ill

      importanthub

    • Putz Ballard profile image

      Putz Ballard 7 years ago

      Great hub Habee,there are still cooties around and pretty easy to deal with once found.