What are head lice and nits?
Lice are tiny, wingless, six-legged parasitic insects that are the size of a sesame seed and usually light gray or light brown in color. They are found directly on the scalp and can live for up to 30 days feeding on tiny amounts of blood to survive. Common symptoms are itching, irritation, and small red bumps. Because they need warm temperatures and human blood to survive, lice cannot survive off the scalp for more than a day or two.
Nits are the eggs of lice that attach themselves to the hair shaft about 1/4 to 1/2 inch from the scalp. They are roughly the size of a grain of sugar and are yellow/brown in color. Nits resemble dandruff but cannot be removed by brushing or shaking. It is more common to spot nits in hair than lice because lice scurry away from light. Nits love part lines, the nape of the neck and behind the ears. Nits hatch within 1 to 2 weeks, leaving a white shell that is firmly attached to the hair shaft.
Are head lice dangerous?
Lice outbreaks are common but they are not dangerous and, contrary to many people’s beliefs, they do not spread disease. However, their bites can cause the scalp to be itchy and irritated, causing children to scratch their scalps excessively creating lacerations or even infections.
Are head lice contagious?
Lice are highly contagious, annoying, and often very difficult to get rid of. Lice cannot fly or jump. They migrate through direct head-to-head contact. They are a very common problem, especially among children, teachers, and parents. They spread easily from one person to another, especially in group settings like schools, childcare centers, sports activities, and summer camps. So it’s important to prevent or quickly treat head lice as soon as they appear.
How do I diagnose head lice?
Although head lice are very small, they can be diagnosed by the naked eye. You may be able to see the lice or nits by parting your child’s hair into small sections and checking for lice and nits with a fine-toothed comb on the scalp, behind the ears, and around the nape of the neck. A magnifying glass and bright light may also be helpful. Lice move fast, so it can be difficult to find them.
How are lice spread?
Lice are mostly spread through head-to-head contact. Lice can survive up to 36 hours off the human head on clothing and other personal items such as hats, helmets, brushes, combs, hair ties, towels, and headphones. They do not fly or jump. They crawl. Lice can also survive in water as they go into a state of suspended animation. Chlorine does not kill them. Pets do not carry the same type of lice as children.
Lice infest children more than adults because they have more physical contact and share more personal items. Girls are 3 to 4 times more likely to have head lice than boys. Pets cannot carry head lice or be contaminated by humans.
Lice Prevention Tips
Lice can’t jump or fly, so some simple preventive measures can keep kids lice free.
Don’t share. “If it touches hair, don’t share” is a simple rule to keep in mind when it comes to lice prevention. Don’t borrow hats, scarves, helmets, combs, hairbrushes, hair accessories, or pillows.
Weekly head check. Doing a quick check once a week in the hot spots – part lines, the nape of the neck, and behind the ears – can help prevent an outbreak.
Don’t over-wash. Lice love squeaky-clean hair because it’s easier to attach their eggs (nits) to an uncoated hair shaft. Allow two to three days between washing. The natural buildup of oils is an easy, natural way to prevent lice.
Keep long hair up in a ponytail, bun, or a braid secured with a Leeloop hair band.
Use styling products. Lice like squeaky-clean hair. Using hair styling products coats the hair shaft, making it difficult for lice to attach to the hair.