Head lice are parasitic insects that make their home in human hair. Most often they infest hair on the top of the head, the eyebrows or eyelashes. They occur frequently in young children in child care, and they are also often spread to family members of these children at home.
Though parents are often distressed by a diagnosis of head lice, having a child with head lice does not indicate that you practice poor hygiene or have poor cleanliness habits. It’s simply an insect that spreads easily among children. It’s also fairly easy to treat, and head lice are not known to spread other diseases.
Symptoms of Head Lice
At first, an infestation of head lice will often show no symptoms, and the best way to detect them is by closely inspecting a child’s scalp. Head lice are tiny, but close inspection usually reveals them or their eggs, called nits, on the shaft of the hair.
When head lice do present symptoms, itchiness is the most common. You may also feel an unusual sensation of movement in your hair or have irritability or sleeplessness at night. Sores on the head from constant scratching can also occur if the lice are not treated.
Prevention and Treatment
The best way to avoid getting head lice is to steer clear of those who are infected. Head lice are most often spread by direct contact (head-to-head or hand-to-head) so avoid these activities as much as possible. Also avoid sharing combs, brushes and other items that have touched an infected person’s hair. Any clothes, bedding or other items that were used by the infected person should be washed in hot water before being reused.
A variety of over-the-counter and prescription medications are available for treating an active head lice infection. These are often medicated shampoos and lotions. The medications are insecticides, which can be dangerous if overused, so it’s important to follow the directions carefully. Contact a doctor if lice are still present after use of over-the-counter treatments.
SOURCES: U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention