Head Lice

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Question

What are head lice?

Answer

Head lice are tiny insects that infest the head and live on the scalp. Lice spread from person to person when you share hairbrushes, combs, hats, clothing, or bedding, or have direct contact. Unfortunately, there is no head lice prevention method other than avoiding physical contact with people and objects that carry lice.

Common head lice symptoms

The most common symptom of head lice is itching. Sometimes the scalp also appears red. Lice eggs - also called nits - appear white, grayish-white, or yellowish. Head lice nits are easiest to see at the nape of the neck and over the ears. They often attach to shafts where the hair joins the scalp.

Treatment options

Over-the-counter products are the most effective treatments for head lice. Some people try wearing petrolatum jelly or mayonnaise under a shower cap overnight, which is thought to cause suffocation of lice. Shampoos containing permethrin usually work quite well also.

It's important to remove the nits. Nits can be removed from the hairs by making a solution of equal parts of vinegar and water and then combing the hair with a fine-tooth comb. Combs and brushes should be soaked in hot water for 1 hour. Clothing and bed linens should be washed in very hot water or dry-cleaned. Items that can't be washed, like stuffed animals, should be placed in a tied plastic bag for three weeks. Medications cannot prevent you from getting lice again.

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