Yuck. Head lice. The name even can make you want to start scratching. Also called Pediculus humanus capitis, head lice are small insects found on the heads of people. Surprisingly, personal hygiene or cleanliness of the home has nothing to do with getting head lice. These nasty little buggers as just as happy in a clean head as they are in a greasy slum.

Head Lice Treatment
Lice Treatment – © Hill Street Studios | Getty Images

Anyone who comes in head-to-head contact with an infected person is at risk.

Activities such as sharing hats, towels, or brushes can spread the problem. While children are more often affected, head lice can infest an adult as well.

Head lice grow through three stages: the nit (also called the egg), the nymph (or baby), and the adult. Indications include itching, sores on the head, and the feeling of something moving in the hair.

Feeling a little itchy yet? Fortunately, head lice can be easily eliminated.

Treat the person:

This phase of eliminating lice will require prescription medication or over-the-counter treatment such as RID.

  1. Remove all clothing from the waist up.
  2. Apply the lice treatment, carefully following instructions on the packaging. RID Shampoo is a popular at-home treatment.
  3. Using a nit comb, remove nits and lice from the hair shaft.
  4. Dress using clean clothing.

If over-the-counter treatment does not seem to be working after eight to twelve hours, see your doctor for alternate medication. After treatment, check hair and comb every few days over the course of two to three weeks until sure all lice have been eliminated.

Treat the household:

Fortunately, head lice do not live long if they fall off the person, because lice feed on skin cells. To avoid re-infestation by lice that have recently fallen off the body, follow these simple steps.

  1. Wash all washable bed linens and clothing used by the infected person. Wash and dry on the hottest setting safe for the fabric. For items that cannot be washed, place in a plastic bag and keep sealed for two weeks.
  2. Soak all combs and brushes for about one hour in rubbing alcohol.
  3. Vacuum the floor, furniture and discard the bag or contents by sealing in a plastic bag.

Since the risk of re-infestation from carpet or furniture is very small, you need not spend a lot of time treating the household. Also, avoid fumigant sprays, which are not necessary and can be toxic if inhaled or absorbed through the skin.


Lice are most often spread by head-to-head contact and much less frequently by other means. To control an outbreak in the community or school, teach children to avoid head-to-head contact and make sure they understand not to share combs, brushes, clothing, linens, or furniture that have been in recent contact with an infected person. Of course, maintaining a healthy scalp is also important.

Head lice can be an annoying and embarrassing problem, but it is important to keep in mind that cleanliness is not the issue. Fortunately, through careful treatment and prevention, lice can be quickly eliminated.

You can stop scratching now.

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