How do I Treat a Head Lice Infestation?

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  • Written By: Solomon Branch
  • Edited By: Allegra J. Lingo
  • Last Modified Date: 29 October 2019
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Treating head lice infestation is a straight-forward process, but requires several steps to insure the infestation is completely gone. The first step is to identify if there is a head lice infestation. Next, the infestation should be cleared and possibly infected persons, pets, or areas where they could manifest, such as the inside of an apartment or house, should be thoroughly cleaned. After these steps are done, re-treatment of any previously infected person is recommended after a week to 10 days.

Head lice infestation, also called pediculosis, is the invasion of the scalp by small, while parasites known as lice. They cling to the scalp and lay eggs, feeding off blood to survive. Lice are considered contagious and are spread by coming into contact with an infected area, item such as a hat or furniture, or person. Pets do not transfer lice to humans.

The most common symptom of a head lice infestation is itching. If left untreated, lice can cause damage to the scalp as a result of the infestation and constant scratching. Children are most often infected, but adults can also get head lice. The person infected may also exhibit increased irritability.


If lice are suspected, the first step is to examine the scalp of the person infected. The lice may be present as eggs, nymps, or adults. They are small but can visible, and are either white, yellow, or tan. The eggs, called nits, are often the easiest to see, as the adults and nymphs can move away quite easily. Eggs found on a strand of hair will indicate a head lice infestation. Unlike other hair problems, like dandruff, the eggs are stationary. Make sure you inspect anyone who might have gotten infected.

The next step is to use a lice-killing shampoo or rinse to clean out most of the lice. If you prefer to use more natural methods, mayonnaise or Vaseline® can be used to coat the hair and smother the lice. This requires using a shower cap to keep it on the scalp, and it needs to be left for at least 2 hours. There are also oils, such as tea-tree oils, that can be effective when used as a soak and rinse.

After treating the infected scalp, clear out the remaining lice with a fine-toothed comb. Some stores sell packages that include both a comb and rinse, or a flea comb will work as well. This should be done every few days to verify the scalp is clean. After a week, re-treat with the lice-killing shampoo or natural method. Keep checking every few weeks to verify that the lice are gone.

Clean any clothing, towels, or furniture involved or suspected to have lice in hot water. Anything that cannot be cleaned in a washing machine should be dry cleaned. Clean brushes and combs in hot water or soak them in rubbing alcohol. Thoroughly vacuum carpets and furniture.

If there is a suspected allergic reaction to the lice shampoo, or if it does not seem to be working, check with a medical professional, who can recommend something stronger or something else that will not cause a reaction. A doctor may also be able to recommend a specific lice-killing shampoo. Many lice shampoos have chemicals in them that may possibly cause problems, especially in younger children.



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