You notice your child concentrating more on scratching his or her head than on their homework and by dinner your heart sinks at the thought of the potential culprit – head lice. Head lice are small, wingless insects that live in the hair, where they feed on blood taken from the scalp. Because lice cannot hop or fly, head lice are commonly spread through direct contact or by sharing hats, scarves, hair brushes, hair accessories, pillows, upholstery, or towels.

While an itchy scalp is a tell-tale sign of head lice, many do not experience itching until after the lice have been present for up to six weeks, enough time for the lice to establish a population and reproduce. Other symptoms of lice include a tickling feeling of something moving on your head; visible sores on the scalp; red bumps on your head, neck, or shoulders; and the appearance of lice eggs, which appear to be small white objects, or visible lice.

Head Lice Myths

So where does head lice come from? Many of us have heard all kinds of myths about head lice, including that lice are only present on people who are unclean. Most of what we think we know about head lice is not accurate. Check out these head lice related myths:

Jumping Lice:

Ever been in a room with someone infested with head lice and felt them crawling all over you? A common misconception about head lice is that the nits, or lice, are able to jump from one head to another. This is false. Head lice are unable to fly or jump and can only crawl. This is why head lice are most commonly spread through direct head-to-head contact with someone that has head lice.

Washing Away:

Another common misconception about head lice is that you are able to wash the bugs and nits away in the bath or shower. Head lice’s ability to attach themselves directly to the hair follicle prevents them from being washed out with generic shampoo and water.

Looking at Length:

Many believe that head lice are attracted to long, unclean hair. Head lice like all kinds of hair - whether it be short, long, clean, unclean - they are nondiscriminatory. While a person of any age can contract head lice, it is more commonly found in school aged children as they come into more direct contact daily with one another.

Spreading More Than Scratching:

Many worry that head lice spread more than just scratching. However, thankfully, head lice have not been shown to carry or spread any bacterial or viral infections. While some with head lice may develop an irritation or rash due to scratching, it is unlikely that any irritation is caused by contracting anything from head lice bugs.

Bagging It Up:

Most who have had head lice heard the myth that, in order to kill off all bugs, all belongings including pillows, stuffed animals, or clothes should be stored in trash bags for a period of time to suffocate any remaining nits. While this was the recommendation in the past, newer studies show that head lice bugs do not live very long once removed from the host. Instead, it is recommended to thoroughly vacuum any place your child may have put their head during an active head lice infestation.

I think my child has head lice, now what?

If you think you or your child has head lice, you should visit your health care provider. Your child’s physician will likely do an examination before diagnosing head lice and can help provide treatment as necessary. Common treatment of head lice includes a special shampoo that is toxic to the insects. There are also over-the-counter medications to help rid the hair of head lice.

If you would like to be seen by a physician, you may walk in any of our centers from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. To find a center near you, please visit our Locations page.

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