What is head lice?

Also called pediculus humanus capitis, head lice doesn’t mean you have poor hygiene. Head to head contact lets lice crawl from one to another, in search of blood they need to survive. Millions get head lice yearly, and infestations are common in school children. Not known to spread disease, having them can make scalp itchy, and may be so pronounced some lose sleep. Treatment can be done at home and usually removes lice. However, if you need additional treatment, Dermatology of Seattle will be glad to help.


What is head lice?

Also called pediculus humanus capitis, head lice doesn’t mean you have poor hygiene. Head to head contact lets lice crawl from one to another, in search of blood they need to survive. Millions get head lice yearly, and infestations are common in school children. Not known to spread disease, having them can make scalp itchy, and may be so pronounced some lose sleep. Treatment can be done at home and usually removes lice. However, if you need additional treatment, Dermatology of Seattle will be glad to help.

What are the symptoms?

There are various symptoms, including itchy scalp, scratching often, a crawling sensation on the scalp, swollen lymph nodes, or pink eye. Lice look like tiny light brown seeds, with eggs that are also brown, or tan, or even yellow.

What causes head lice?

Anyone can get head lice, and in the USA young children often get it from school, and can transmit it to parents and caretakers. For some reason, girls seem more likely to get it, this may be due to increased head-to-head contact compared to boys. Lice move from host to host by crawling, as they cannot jump or fly, and must crawl from object to person, like towels or brushes. Infestations are more common in warmer months, and happen even at affluent schools. It’s possible to get head lice by sharing objects like hats, scarves, brushes, and towels, or resting your head on a pillow or couch where someone who has lice has been.

How is it diagnosed and treated?

With a bright light and lice comb, you can diagnose this at home. Adult lice look light brown and seed-shaped, eggs are also brown but may be tan or yellow, and stick to the hair as if glued. Treatment involves using a lice shampoo which is lathered and let to sit in the hair for several minutes. Using too much of a product or a certain combination of products can be harmful, so be sure to ask your Dermatology of Seattle dermatologist for advice. Repeated use of shampoos and lice combs may be necessary. Some people find the easiest treatment is to shave the head. Malathion is a prescription medicine, and works by paralyzing and killing the lice, but may irritate scalp and care must be taken not to get it in the eyes. Benzyl alcohol lotion is sometimes used, it kills lice but notr eggs, so retreatment is necessary. Lindane shampoo is prescribed when other treatments are not effective, but can be toxic if misused. Anything that touches the head should be sterilized in hot water for 10 minutes. All bedding and clothing should be washed in hot water and dried on high heat. Other items not easily washed, like headphones, can be placed in plastic bags then stuck in the freezer. Vacuuming the carpet is also a good idea.