Lice are tiny parasites that live on the body or in clothing and cause skin inflammation (redness, itching, swelling) called pediculosis. The three types are head lice, body lice, and pubic (crab) lice. Head lice are most common in children. About 6 to 12 million cases per year occur in the United States.
Lice live on the head, eyebrows, eyelashes, facial hair, pubic hair, and the back of the neck. Lice eggs, called nits, are white and are easier to see than the small gray lice. Sharing a brush, comb, or hat with someone who is infected spreads lice. They can also spread by close person-to-person contact. Pubic lice spread by sexual contact.
What are the Symptoms of Lice?
Common Signs and Symptoms
Symptoms usually go away within a few days of treatment. They include an itchy scalp (worse at night), a moving feeling in the hair, rash and sores on the scalp, and nits on the scalp and eyebrows.
How are Lice Diagnosed?
The doctor will take a medical history and do an examination, with special attention to the scalp and using a magnifying glass. The doctor may also use a special light called a Wood’s lamp to see nits.
Many times, a school nurse will find lice during routine checks of children. A magnifying glass helps show the nits. Your doctor may also use a special light called a Wood’s lamp to see nits. Seeing them is all that’s needed for diagnosis.
How are Lice Treated?
Lice are treated with medicated creams, lotions, or shampoos applied to affected body parts. Some of these include permethrin (Nix®, Elimite®), applied once; pyrethrins (Rid®, R and C®, A-200®), reapplied in 7 days; and lindane (Kwell®, by prescription), reapplied in 7 days.
Lice can also be removed with a special comb and by pulling out lice or nits that are left with fingers or tweezers. A magnifying glass helps show the nits and lice. Eyelashes should be checked for lice and nits.
Side effects of treatments include skin irritation or body absorption of the medicine. These usually occur when medicine is applied more often than recommended. Keep all preparations out of the eyes and out of the reach of children.
DOs and DON’Ts in Managing Lice
1. DO tell your doctor if you’re pregnant.
2. DO check the heads of all family members.
3. DO call your doctor if symptoms don’t get better after 1 week.
4. DO protect your eyes from the anti-lice shampoo.
5. DO keep your child out of school, day care, or camp until your doctor says that it’s OK to go back.
6. DO clean clothing, bedding, pillows, stuffed toys, and fabric furniture that was used during the infection. Wash all clothes in hot water at 130° F for 20 minutes. Dry them in a hot dryer. Clean the house. Put clothes that cannot be washed in a sealed plastic bag for 2 weeks before drycleaning them.
7. DO soak combs and brushes for at least 1 hour in anti-lice shampoo, disinfectant, hot water, or rubbing alcohol.
8. DO call your doctor if family members or sexual partners have symptoms of lice or symptoms return after treatment.
9. DON’T use more anti-lice shampoo than recommended.
10. DON’T use anti-lice shampoo and medicine if you’re pregnant unless your doctor says to.
11. DON’T use medicine around your eyes unless your doctor tells you to.