Scratch scratch. Scratch. Your head is feeling really itchy. Could it be lice?
If so, you're not alone. Every year, millions of people worldwide get head
lice. Most of those millions are kids. Any kid who goes to school has probably
already heard about lice. They can spread easily at schools, so if one kid gets them,
the rest of the class might get them, too. What can you do? Let's find out.
What Are Head Lice?
Lice are very, very small insects. In fact, they are so tiny that you can barely
see them! Each louse (the name for one of the lice) is only about
the size of a sesame seed.
Head lice need to be next to skin to survive — and the warmth of your skin
is a perfect place for them to live. Lice eat tiny amounts of blood (much less than
a mosquito does) for their nourishment and use their sticky little feet to hold on
to hair. Gross!
When lice start living in hair, they also start to lay eggs, or nits.
Lice can survive up to 30 days on a person's head and can lay eight eggs a day. Lice
attach their nits to pieces of hair, close to the scalp. If you see a small, oval
blob on a strand of hair, that's probably a nit. If these little eggs are yellow,
tan, or brown, the lice haven't hatched yet. If the eggs are white or clear, the lice
Although they don't hurt, lice sometimes can irritate the skin
and make it itchy (especially at night). Too much scratching can lead to scalp infections.
Head Lice Love Everyone
Having lice can be embarrassing, but anyone can get them. That
includes the cleanest kid in the class! Having head lice is not a sign of dirtiness
or poor hygiene. The pesky little bugs can be a problem no matter how often a kid
does — or doesn't — wash their hair or take a bath.
Lice can't jump or fly. They spread when people's heads touch or when they share
hats and other clothing, combs, brushes, headbands, barrettes, and bedding (like sheets,
blankets, pillowcases, and sleeping bags). If lice are stuck on any of these things
and that thing touches another person's head, that person may also get lice. Lice
spread in classrooms and schools because kids play together closely and often share
more stuff than adults do.
How Can We Get Rid of Head Lice?
If your head feels very itchy, tell an adult as soon as possible. This is especially
true if you know that other kids in your class or school have had lice. Don't wait
around — the more time the lice have to lay nits, the itchier you will be!
Often a parent or school nurse can recognize head lice just by looking for nits
in the hair. Some kids' parents will take them to the doctor so the doctor can check
to see if lice are there.
If a kid has lice, an adult will need to buy a special medicated shampoo, cream,
or lotion that kills lice. An adult will need to apply the medicine and follow the
directions. Part of the treatment is combing your hair with a fine-tooth comb to remove
the nits. The shampoo, cream, or lotion usually kills the lice right away. The itching
should go away within a few days, but treatment may need to be repeated in 7 to 10
days to kill any new lice that may have hatched since the first treatment.
Do not use a hair dryer on your hair after washing with the medicated
shampoo, lotion, or cream because they can contain flammable ingredients. You don't
want your hair catching on fire.
Removing By Hand
Your parent also can try removing the nits and lice by hand. To do this, your mom
or dad will use a fine-tooth comb on your wet, conditioned hair every 3–4 days
for 3 weeks after the last live louse was seen. Wetting the hair temporarily stops
the lice from moving, and the conditioner makes it easier to get a comb through the
Although lice can live for only 1 to 2 days off a person's head, it's a good idea
for an adult to wash all your bedding, hats, clothing, and stuffed animals in hot
water. Or they can seal these things in airtight bags for 2 weeks. That also will
kill the lice and their eggs.
Vacuuming the carpets, upholstery, and car seats will take care of any lice that
fell off before treatment. Combs, brushes, and hair accessories need to be soaked
in hot water, washed with medicated shampoo, or thrown away.
Sometimes it's hard to get rid of the lice. If that happens to you, have your parent
talk to the doctor. There are stronger medicines and other treatments that they may
decide to use.
Life Without Lice
Sure, lice aren't so nice, but there are things you can do to keep them away. To
help prevent lice:
If your friend has lice, don't give the lice any chance to spread to you. Avoid
putting your heads together or sharing stuff that could contain lice, such as hats
Don't try on hats that belong to other kids.
Never share a comb, brush, barrettes, or other hair accessories.
Use your own, and don't lend them to anyone else.
Always use your own sleeping bag and pillow when sleeping away from home.
Sharing is usually a great idea — except when you're sharing lice!