Preventing and Getting Rid of Lice!

Dr. Kathryn Self's picture
By Dr. Kathryn Self on April 3, 2018

Has your child ever come home from school or daycare with head lice?

What was fairly rare a generation ago is now more common: Lots of kids are getting lice from their friends.

However, head lice aren’t the result of poor hygiene. Kids get them mainly by touching heads as they play or talk. The lice crawl from the head of one child to another.

According to the CDC, 6 to 12 million cases of head lice occur each year in the United States among children 3 to 11.


Head lice are tiny insects that attach themselves to the scalp, where they feed by sucking blood. They are grayish-white or tan and no bigger than a sesame seed.

Luckily, there are steps you can take to help keep them away from children:

  • Teach your child not to share hats or anything that comes in contact with the hair, including combs, hair ties, scarves, jackets or helmets
  • Ask her (or him) to avoid head-to-head contact with other children, whether they’re playing, participating in sports or at a slumber party
  • Tell your child not to use shared spaces where students hang their hats and clothes
  • Clean items that have touched the head of someone with lice in the previous 48 hours. Machine wash them with hot water (130°F) and dry on high heat.
  • Don’t let your child lie on couches, carpets or beds that have recently been used by someone with lice
  • Vacuum your furniture and floor if someone with lice has been in your home. The lice won’t live more than two days if they have fallen off a person’s scalp.
  • To disinfect a comb or brush used by someone with lice, soak it for five to 10 minutes in water that’s at least 130°F
  • For added protection, you may want to tie back girls’ hair before they go out to play or to school  


If, in spite of all your efforts, you think your child has lice, what you should do?

  • Get a magnifying glass and stand your child in bright light
  • Part the child’s hair in various spots and check the entire scalp
  • Because lice can move quickly and be hard to see, it may be easier to spot the eggs, or nits, they lay in the hair. These resemble dandruff.
  • If you think you see a nit, lift a strand of hair and run your fingernail across the scalp. Dandruff will flake off, while nits will stick to the hair.


If treatment for head lice is necessary, there are over-the-counter and prescription drugs available. But many are not meant for kids younger than two, so make sure you read the label before using one on your child.

Some of the over-the-counter products may also be flammable or irritating to the skin or lungs.

A good alternative is to consult your doctor, who may want to prescribe one of several FDA-approved drugs for head lice.

After treatment, you’ll also want to keep tabs on the rest of your family. Check everyone after a week to be sure no one else has gotten lice.

Stay Optimistic

Yes, it is extra work, but it becomes easier to check your child and deal with lice after you’ve done it all once.

And if it’s any consolation: your pets can’t contract lice. They only feed on humans.

Just think of it as a rite of passage as a parent and remember that you’re not alone.

Every other mom and dad potentially has to deal with this too!   

Kathryn C. Self, M.D., is a pediatrician at Carilion Children's pediatric medicine practice in Rocky Mount, Va. Check out Dr. Self's bio to learn more.
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