Head Lice

Infestation of tiny, wingless insects on the scalp that may cause intense itching

  • Most common between the ages of 4 and 11
  • More common in girls
  • Genetics and lifestyle are not significant factors

Infestation with head lice is common among young schoolchildren, particularly girls, between the ages of 4 and 11 years. These tiny, almost transparent insects are transmitted by close contact and by sharing personal items such as combs and hats. Head lice are not a result of poor hygiene.

The insects live by sucking blood from the scalp and may be seen as they fall off a child’s head when the hair is washed or combed. The eggs, known as nits, are visible as tiny white specks attached to the base of the hairs. An infestation of head lice usually causes intense itching, but there may be no other obvious symptoms.

What can I do?

If you think that your child has head lice, check for eggs at the bases of hairs and comb the hair over a piece of white paper to see if adult lice fall out. If head lice are present, you should check the rest of the family for infestation and alert your child’s school.

You can normally treat head lice at home using over-the-counter lotions or shampoos containing an insecticide (see Preparations for skin infections and infestations). You should use the type that is currently recommended because lice develop resistance to insecticides. If your child is under the age of 2 or has allergies, eczema, or asthma, discuss treatment with the doctor. To avoid reinfestation, wash bedlinen and combs in very hot water and discourage your child from sharing combs and hats.

Self-help: Treating Head Lice

From the 2010 revision of the Complete Home Medical Guide © Dorling Kindersley Limited.

The subjects, conditions and treatments covered in this encyclopaedia are for information only and may not be covered by your insurance product should you make a claim.

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