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Head Lice - Information for Parents

 

With knowledge, prevention and early treatment, parents can help reduce the spread of head lice in the community. Learn how to identify and treat head lice in your children.

What is head lice?

Head lice (pediculosis) have nothing to do with lack of cleanliness – anyone can get head lice. They are a nuisance, but they do not cause illness. Head lice are not a public health problem because they do not transmit disease.

Head lice eggs:

  • Are very small – about half the size of a pinhead
  • Are grey to brown in colour
  • Can take about 7 - 10 days to hatch

What to do

If you discover that your child has head lice:

  • Talk to a pharmacist. Ask for a product that kills head lice and their eggs.
  • Also ask about any special precautions to take while using the product. Some products might not be recommended for young children, people with certain allergies or pregnant/nursing mothers.
  • Only treat family members who have head lice.
  • Follow the product directions exactly. Never use these products on a daily basis.
  • Wear plastic or rubber gloves when using the product so that you don't expose your hands to the chemical for too long.
  • Wash your hands well, immediately after using the head lice product.
  • Hold a towel tightly over your child’s eyes to protect them from the product during treatment.
  • Rinse hair under the tap instead of in the shower or tub to limit skin exposure and to prevent swallowing the product.
  • Store unused products out of the reach of children.

Check with a doctor regarding special treatment for the following:

  • Children under the age of 2
  • People with a seizure disorder
  • Pregnant or breastfeeding mothers
  • Lice are found on eyebrows, eyelashes or beard
  • The skin of the scalp is broken or infected

Treatment tips

Follow these tips to help treat your child's head lice infection:

  • Remove all live lice from the hair using fingers, nit comb or brush. For long hair, brush hair from the scalp downward and then with head bent forward, brush hair from the nape of the neck upward to the scalp.
  • Sit by bright natural light to see the eggs.
  • Take hold of a lock of hair and manually pull eggs from the hair, as nit combs will not reach the new eggs that are laid close to the scalp.
  • Use your thumbnail against your first finger to strip the eggs from the root of the hair down to the tips (place eggs in a paper towel for the garbage).
  • Pin back that lock of hair and continue until all the eggs are removed.
  • Make sure to remove eggs that are close to the scalp.
  • Ask the pharmacist when a second treatment should be done
  • Clean your house as per your usual routine.
  • Do not spray household items. It is not necessary and can be harmful.

Alternative or natural treatments

All products, whether they are natural or not, have risks associated with them. Some alternative treatments claim to be safer and more effective than traditional treatments for head lice, but some natural products can be toxic if used at full strength.

Other methods, like mayonnaise, oil, vinegar, wet-combing, etc., might not have risks associated with them but there is no scientific evidence that they work (Canadian Pediatric Society, October 2008; Sick Kids Hospital June, 2008).

Other steps

If you discover that your child has head lice:

  • Tell the school or child care centre.
  • Tell anyone who has had close contact with the person in your family who has lice.
  • Ask the school or child care centre about the procedure for re-entry.
  • Continue to check your child’s head once a week, after school breaks, sleepovers and vacations.

Prevention

To help prevent the spread of head lice:

  • Check your child’s hair carefully once a week for lice and eggs.
  • Teach your child to brush/comb their hair every night.
  • Braid long hair or put it into a ponytail (it might be helpful).

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