Learn About Head Lice

What is the definition of Head Lice?

Head lice are tiny insects that live on the skin covering the top of your head (scalp). Head lice may also be found in eyebrows and eyelashes.

Lice spread by close contact with other people.

Head lice
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What are the alternative names for Head Lice?

Pediculosis capitis - head lice; Cooties - head lice

What are the causes of Head Lice?

Head lice infect hair on the head. Tiny eggs on the hair look like flakes of dandruff. However, instead of flaking off the scalp, they stay in place.

Head lice can live up to 30 days on a human. Their eggs can live for more than 2 weeks.

Head lice spread easily, particularly among school children ages 3 to 11 years. Head lice are more common in close, overcrowded living conditions.

You can get head lice if:

  • You come in close contact with a person who has lice.
  • You touch the clothing or bedding of someone who has lice.
  • You share hats, towels, brushes, or combs of someone who has lice.

Having head lice causes intense itching but does not lead to serious medical problems. Unlike body lice, head lice never carry or spread diseases.

Having head lice does not mean the person has poor hygiene or low social status.

What are the symptoms of Head Lice?

Symptoms of head lice include:

  • Very bad itching of the scalp
  • Small, red bumps on the scalp, neck, and shoulders (bumps may become crusty and ooze)
  • Tiny white specks (eggs, or nits) on the bottom of each hair that are hard to get off
Lice, head - nits in the hair with close-up
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What are the current treatments for Head Lice?

Lotions and shampoos containing 1% permethrin (Nix) often work well. You can buy these medicines at the store without a prescription. If these products do not work, a health care provider can give you a prescription for stronger medicine. Always use the medicines exactly as directed. Using them too often or in the wrong way can cause side effects.

To use the medicine shampoo:

  • Rinse and dry the hair.
  • Apply the medicine to the hair and scalp.
  • Wait 10 minutes, then rinse it off.
  • Check for lice and nits again in 8 to 12 hours.
  • If you find active lice, talk to your provider before doing another treatment.

You also need to get rid of the lice eggs (nits) to keep lice from coming back.

To get rid of nits:

  • You can use products that make the nits easier to remove. Some dishwashing detergents can help dissolve the "glue" that makes the nits stick to the hair shaft.
  • Remove the eggs with a nit comb. Before doing this, rub olive oil in the hair or run the metal comb through beeswax. This helps make the nits easier to remove.
  • Metal combs with very fine teeth are stronger and work better than plastic nit combs. These metal combs are easier to find in pet stores or on the Internet.
  • Comb for nits again in 7 to 10 days.

When treating lice, wash all clothes and bed linens in hot water with detergent. This also helps prevent head lice from spreading to others during the short period when head lice can survive off the human body.

Ask your provider if people who share bedding or clothes with the person who has head lice need to be treated as well.

Who are the top Head Lice Local Doctors?
Highly rated in

Insect Research & Development Limited

Cambridge, ENG, GB 

Ian Burgess is in Cambridge, United Kingdom. Burgess is rated as an Elite expert by MediFind in the treatment of Head Lice. He is also highly rated in 1 other condition, according to our data. His top areas of expertise are Head Lice and Scabies.

Highly rated in

Newcastle University


Quentin Anstee is in United Kingdom. Anstee is rated as an Elite expert by MediFind in the treatment of Head Lice. He is also highly rated in 9 other conditions, according to our data. His top areas of expertise are Non-Alcoholic Fatty Liver Disease, Nonalcoholic Steatohepatitis, Cirrhosis, and Head Lice.

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Highly rated in

Contemporary Pediatrics

Dayton, OH 

Robert Myers is a Pediatrics doctor in Dayton, Ohio. Dr. Myers has been practicing medicine for over 40 years and is rated as an Elite doctor by MediFind in the treatment of Head Lice. He is also highly rated in 15 other conditions, according to our data. His top areas of expertise are Nonalcoholic Steatohepatitis, Non-Alcoholic Fatty Liver Disease, Head Lice, and Cirrhosis. He is licensed to treat patients in Ohio. Dr. Myers is currently accepting new patients.

What is the outlook (prognosis) for Head Lice?

Most of the time, lice are killed with the proper treatment. However, lice can come back if you do not get rid of them at the source.

What are the possible complications of Head Lice?

Some people will develop a skin infection from scratching. Antihistamines can help ease itching.

When should I contact a medical professional for Head Lice?

Call your provider if:

  • You still have symptoms after home treatment.
  • You develop areas of red, tender skin, which could signal an infection.
How do I prevent Head Lice?

Some of the steps to prevent head lice are:

  • Never share hair brushes, combs, hair pieces, hats, bedding, towels, or clothing with someone who has head lice.
  • If your child has lice, be sure to check policies at schools and daycare. Many places do not allow infected children to be at school until the lice have been completely treated.
  • Some schools may have policies to make sure the environment is clear of lice. Cleaning of carpets and other surfaces often helps prevent spread of all types of infections, including head lice.
Head lice
Nit on human hair
Head louse emerging from egg
Head louse, male
Head louse - female
Head louse infestation - scalp
What are the latest Head Lice Clinical Trials?
A Randomized Controlled Double-blind Trial Assessing the Efficacy of a 400µg/kg Ivermectin /5% Permethrin / Emollient Cream Regimen in Patients With Crusted Scabies as Compared to a 200µg/kg Ivermectin /5% Permethrin /Emollient Cream Regimen
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A Phase 3, Multinational, Multicenter, Randomized, Double-Blind, Placebo-Controlled Clinical Study to Evaluate the Efficacy and Safety of Aramchol in Subjects With Nonalcoholic Steatohepatitis (NASH) With Open-Label Part to Evaluate the Safety, PK and Treatment Response Kinetics of Aramchol. The ARMOR Study
What are the Latest Advances for Head Lice?
Therapeutic Potential of Tea Tree Oil for Tungiasis.
Molecular analysis of mitochrondrial cytb of Pediculus humanus capitis in Thailand revealed potential historical connection with South Asia.
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For Safer Use of Ivermectin in All Patients.
What are our references for Head Lice?

Burkhart CN, Burkhart GG, Morrell DS. Infestations. In: Bolognia JL, Schaffer JV, Cerroni L, eds. Dermatology. 4th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2018:chap 84.

James WD, Elston DM, Treat JR, Rosenbach MA, Neuhaus IM. Parasitic infestations, stings, and bites. In: James WD, Elston DM, Treat JR, Rosenbach MA, Neuhaus IM, eds. Andrew's Diseases of the Skin Clinical Dermatology. 13th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2020:chap 20.

Seifert SA, Dart R, White J. Envenomation, bites, and stings. In: Goldman L, Schafer AI, eds. Goldman-Cecil Medicine. 26th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2020:chap 104.