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Categories > Children’s Health > Other childhood disorders

House Calls: Treating head lice

Q: I think my child has head lice. Are they harmful and how do I get rid of them?

A: An annoying but not dangerous problem, head and scalp lice are tiny parasites that feed on small amounts of blood. Most common among children ages 3 to 12 (and girls more than boys), lice spread quickly between heads or from infested hats, pillows or brushes. If your child has an itchy scalp, lice eggs (called nits) or small red bumps on the scalp, neck and shoulders, he or she likely has head lice. For youngsters 2 and older, head lice can be treated with over-the-counter or prescription chemical shampoos or lotions. Follow directions carefully or ask your child’s pediatrician or pharmacist about proper product usage. Because these products may not eliminate every nit, you may need to remove the rest by hand. If your child has lice or nits in eyelashes or eyebrows, see your pediatrician.

Although head lice can’t live long away from the head, use hot water to wash your child’s bed linens, towels and clothing. Vacuum carpets, couches and car seats.

Because of the highly contagious nature of head lice, check the scalps of everyone in your family and contact your child’s school.