Lice are tiny insects, about the size of a sesame seed, which live in the hair and on the scalp. There are various ways to get rid of lice, including speaking with a healthcare professional, using delousing shampoo, and using a nit comb.

Lice are highly contagious from person to person, and even a small number of eggs can give rise to an infestation. Knowing how to get rid of lice effectively can save you time, money, and lots of itching.

Below are seven effective steps to get rid of lice and their eggs. Following this process may help people to become free from their lice infestation.

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An itchy scalp may be caused by dandruff or dry skin rather than lice.

Not all itchy, flaky scalps are due to lice. Before beginning a de-lousing regimen, a person should confirm that lice or their eggs are present.

Dandruff, dry skin, and some scalp infections can mimic the symptoms of lice. Without careful inspection, flaky skin might even resemble lice eggs.

To check for lice, people should inspect the scalp under a light. Lice are grayish-brown and should be visible on the scalp.

Lice eggs attach to the root of the hair, about an inch from the scalp. Wetting the hair can make it easier to spot them.

Lice treatments use mild pesticides that are safe to use on the scalp. Nevertheless, they are toxic, which means children will need to be supervised carefully.

People with a history of skin allergies or other unusual reactions, especially to pesticides or to topical products, should speak to a doctor before using lice treatments.

Consult a doctor before applying a delousing treatment if:

  • previous delousing treatments have not worked
  • there is a history of allergic reactions
  • the scalp is injured, bloody, or crusty
  • lice are not visible

Adult female lice, which are slightly bigger than males, lay about six eggs a day. That means even a small lice infestation can quickly give rise to a much larger one. Getting rid of lice requires killing adult lice and removing their eggs.

Some head lice shampoos kill both eggs and adult lice. These shampoos are called ovicides.

More typically, shampoos have only a weak ovicidal effect or do not kill lice eggs at all. People who choose these shampoos will need to remove lice eggs by hand.

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There are a number of over-the-counter delousing shampoos available.

Begin treatment with a delousing shampoo.

A number of over-the-counter options are readily available.

Follow the instructions on the package, which may require the shampoo to remain on the scalp for several minutes.

After a shampoo treatment, the infected person should put on clean clothes. Machine washing clothes with hot water, or in a hot dryer, kills lice.

Putting on dirty clothes can help the lice travel back to the head, reinfesting the scalp.

Most lice treatments need to be repeated several days after the first application. In addition to this retreatment, check the scalp 8-12 hours afterward. Lice should be dead or dying, not active or moving on the scalp.

If the lice are still active, people should contact a doctor. A different treatment may be necessary, as lice can be resistant to certain treatments.

People should avoid retreating their scalp without consulting a doctor. This is because treatments too close together may irritate the scalp and might not work.

If the treatment does not promise to kill all eggs, use a fine-toothed nit comb to comb out all nits. This may be included in the treatment package.

People should begin combing at the crown of the head, working down to the neck and one side of the head, then to the other side.

Even if a shampoo promises to kill eggs, removing the nits by hand can speed up treatment and reduce the risk of a reinfestation.

For the most effective egg removal, use a nit comb on the scalp every day for at least a week. This ensures that, even if some eggs go unnoticed, all or most are eventually removed.

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It is important to wash items such as hats and pillow cases that have come into direct contact with the head.

A delousing shampoo does little to prevent a reinfestation with lice. Lice cannot jump. Instead, they spread through very close or direct contact with infected people or objects.

Lice die soon after falling off of a human head but objects that have had recent direct contact with a person are more likely to spread lice.

There is little reason to worry about clothes worn several days ago, carpets, or furniture. However, the following strategies can further reduce the risk of spreading lice to someone else or of becoming re-infested:

  • Vacuum furniture and carpets, especially if the person with lice frequently lies on them.
  • Soak combs, brushes, and any other hair tools in hot water for 5-10 minutes. For even greater protection, consider replacing them.
  • Wash scarves, hats, and other clothing that comes into direct contact with the head. Running the clothing in the dryer is fine if the clothing cannot be washed safely.
  • Wash or replace pillows and pillowcases.
  • Encourage children not to share combs, brushes, hats, or scarves with other children.

It might feel time-consuming and frustrating to wash so many different items, but head lice will return even if a handful of nits make their way back onto the head. The extra time now can save more time over the following weeks.

Parents may be reluctant to keep children home from school, particularly when if they have to go to work themselves.

However, sending a child to school when they have or may have lice is a recipe for reinfestation. Until children are free of lice, they should not return to school or day care.

It is not enough to just treat the child and hope for the best. The child’s scalp should be free of lice and their eggs before they return to classes.

This protects other children, but it also protects the child. When a child spreads lice to his or her friends, those friends can then spread lice back to the child.

Similarly, people should consider keeping a child home if there is an outbreak of lice at their school. They should notify the child’s school of the child’s lice infestation. This means other children will have been exposed, too.

People should ask the school to have all parents check their children. Until classmates are treated and free of lice, sending the child back to school may lead to another lice infestation.