As kids return to school, along comes the risk of those pesky little bugs known as head lice. September is National Head Lice Awareness Month — a good time to shed light on something that affect millions of school-aged children in the U.S. each year.
Head lice are known to lay and attach their eggs (called nits) to hair close to the scalp, where they feed on small amounts of blood. The nits are oval, yellow or white, and about the size of a knot in thread.
They develop into adult lice, which are usually pale and gray and about the size of a sesame seed.
While it sounds pretty gross, head lice have nothing to do with poor hygiene. Anyone can get them. In fact, the lice may actually prefer healthy, clean heads. And while head lice are a nuisance, they don’t carry any diseases or cause any serious health problems. That being said, you still don’t want them spreading on your child’s head!
The most common symptom of head lice is itching on the areas where lice are present (often behind the ears or at the back of the neck), although it can take up to 4-6 weeks after lice get on the scalp before it starts to itch.
The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) provides instructions for how to check for head lice:
If you suspect your child has head lice, call your pediatrician first before beginning any treatment.
Don’t bother with home remedies like mayonnaise, olive oil, margarine, butter, petroleum jelly, or other substances like gasoline. They won’t work — and some are harmful to kids.
The most effective way to treat head lice is with head lice medicine. Your doctor give you instructions and safety guidelines for the medicine. After each treatment, the comb-out method is often used.
Head lice live about 28 days. But the good news is, if they cannot feed, they only survive about 1-2 days or less. The eggs do not survive if they are farther than 4-6 mm of the scalp.
Also, head lice cannot jump, hop or fly. They are spread most commonly by prolonged, direct head-to-head contact.
The AAP offers steps parents can take to prevent and control the spread of head lice:
Find a pediatrician.
Learn more about children’s services at Edward-Elmhurst Health.
If you have reached this screen, your current device or browser is unable to access the full Edward-Elmhurst Health Web site.
To see the full site, please upgrade your browser to the most recent version of Safari, Chrome, Firefox or Internet Explorer. If you cannot upgrade your browser, you can remain on this site.