Parent's Guide to Head Lice


  • What are head lice?

    • Head lice are small insects that live and lay eggs on the human scalp. The scalp provides food and warmth for the eggs to hatch. 
    • Head lice are sometimes called “nits”.
    • Head lice die quickly (within 2 days) without feeding so they cannot live very long away from your child’s head.
    • Nits take 6 to 9 days to hatch, and 7 or more days for the lice to become egg-laying adults.

    How do people get head lice?

    • Children get lice from other children. They move from child to child through head to head contact.  Sharing combs, brushes, hair fasteners, caps, scarves, and even head phones spreads them too.  Lice can even attach to stuffed toys.

    How do I know if my child has lice?
    “Wow, my head sure does itch.”  If someone has lice, their scalp may be very itchy.  Check your child’s head and scalp all over and especially behind the ears and at the back of the neck.  These two spots are where you may initially find them, but they can live anywhere on the scalp.  You may need to use a magnifying glass.  Lice and nits are really small and sometimes difficult to identify with the naked eye.  Don’t confuse dirt or dandruff with eggs (nits).  Eggs stick on the hair.

    How can I get rid of my child’s lice?
    In most cases, you can take care of your child’s head lice problem at home without a visit to the doctor.  Initial treatment should be with a special shampoo and cream rinse approved by the FDA that is purchased at local pharmacies without a prescription.  

    If your child has recurring lice, you should contact your health care provider for further guidance and/or a prescription treatment.

    After the shampoo, are all the lice gone?
    After the first treatment, you may not see live lice but you might see nits (live eggs).  If the nits are attached to strands of hair close to the scalp, they are probably not dead.  Live lice could still be living somewhere on your child’s head; or, soon will hatch from the remaining eggs.  After treatment it is important to comb out the nits left in your child’s hair with a metal nit comb. The comb should be available to purchase wherever you buy lice treatments. 

    Nits are very tiny; about the size of a knot in a thread.  They are shaped like a long football, yellow to white in color and are often mistaken for dandruff or sticky hairspray droplets.  The nits attach to the hair at the scalp with a water-proof, cement-like substance.

    The best way to remove nits is to part the hair into small sections.  As each section is combed, fasten the hair to the scalp to keep track of what has been combed.  It is easier to comb we hair.  Any nits that cannot be combed out must be removed.  You can to this by picking them out with your fingernails.  Check and comb hair daily for two weeks to remove all remaining nits.

    A second treatment and combing are necessary.  Live lice or nits could still be hiding somewhere on your child’s head.  This second treatment needs to be given between 7-10 days after the first treatment in order to ill any remaining or newly hatched lice.

    Very Important Treatment Information

    • Follow the label directions carefully.
    • Do not leave the product on for a longer time than is recommended; it will not kill the lice faster.
    • Treat all other family members just in case.
    • Each person with head lice needs a complete treatment. Do no split a single box of shampoo or rinse between people.
    • Even after treatment, you should remove nits daily with a metal nit comb until all nits are completely removed.
    • Wait at least 7 days before treating a second time.

    What if the treatment did not work?

    • The directions on the treatment product were not followed closely enough.
    • The nits were not completely removed.
    • The child got head lice again from a playmate.
    • Lice may not die right away.
    • The problem was not lice.

    Myths & Misconceptions
    There is no proof that the following products work:  vinegar, mayonnaise, olive oil, tea tree oil, and compounds that say they dissolve the glue on the nits “to ease their removal.”

    Cutting your child’s hair or shaving their heads will not keep lice away.  This simply isn’t true.  Lice stick to short and just “grown-in” hair too! You are not more likely to get head lice if your hair is dirty, you have bade personal hygiene habits or if your home is untidy. 

    Getting rid of lice or nits in your home

    • Wash clothing and bedding in hot water (130 degrees). Caution: DO NOT bath or shampoo in water this hot.  This temperature is for laundry use only.
    • Dry clothing and bedding on a hot cycle for at least 20 minutes.
    • Dry cleaning kills lice and their nits in clothing that can’t be washed.
    • Sealing clothing, stuffed toys, pillows, blankets or small soft items for 10 days in tightly closed plastic bags will kill both lice and nits!
    • Don’t forget the backpack! It needs to be washed or bagged for 10 days and then vacuumed out.
    • Vacuum carpets, furniture and curtains to pick up any live lice or nits that may have fallen or crawled there. Vacuum 3-6 consecutive days and throw away the vacuum bag daily.
    • Boil brushes and combs for 5 minutes in boiling water or soak them in an approved lice shampoo for one hour.
    • Check all members of your family for lice.
    • Counsel your child on how head lice are transmitted and how to prevent head lice from spreading (limiting sleepovers, sharing of personal belongings such as hats, scarves, brushes, combs, etc.

    Additional Resources:
    Texas Department of State Health Services