Head Lice Signs Symptoms and Treatment - FamilyEducation

What Everybody Needs to Know About Head Lice

by Lindsay Hutton

Find all the information you need on the signs, symptoms, and treatment of head lice.

In This Article:

What Are Head Lice?

Head lice are an unpleasant but fairly common part of childhood. The little buggers can turn up anywhere--in school, at a friend's house, or somewhere in public, and can spread from person to person by direct contact.

Head lice, also known as head louse, are parasitic insects that live in human hair and scalps, and survive off of human blood. Head lice infestations, scientifically known as pediculosis, occur around the world and can infest anybody regardless of their hygiene. The symptoms of head lice are easy to identify: itchy scalp and irritability in the affected area. If you look closely, you might see tiny white balls--the eggs--wrapped around the hair shafts, or an actual adult louse.

Head lice develop through three stages--nits, nymphs, and adults. In general, it takes about two weeks for the nits, or eggs, to hatch and mature into adults. An adult louse is about the size of a sesame seed, with six legs and a tan to grayish-white color. Once a louse is fully mature, it can live up to 30 days on a person's head, feeding off their blood. Without a host, an adult louse will die within two days.

How Are Lice Spread?
Lice do not jump or fly, and they can not be spread from pets or other animals. However, lice spread easily through direct contact from person to person, so infestations can occur quickly. Anyone can get head lice, but pre-school and elementary-aged children and their families are infested the most often. Your child can contract head lice by:

  • Riding the school bus.
  • Playing with a child who is infested.
  • Participating in classroom activities that require children to sit close together or in groups.
  • Using an infested comb or brush, or wearing an infested hat, scarf, coat, sports uniform, hair elastic, or piece of clothing.
  • Sitting in an infested chair, such as at the movie theater or in a car.
  • Lying on a bed, couch, pillow, carpet, or stuffed animal that is infested.
  • Lice are diagnosed by looking closely through the hair for nits, nymphs, or adult louse. Your child's school nurse is likely well-trained in diagnosing a head lice infestation, and routine screenings are required in most schools.