How to Prevent Lice in Children

Three Methods:Helping your Child Prevent a Lice InfestationTaking Measures to Avoid a Lice InfestationTreating Lice

Head lice are tiny wingless creatures that sometimes live in people's hair. They feed on small amounts of blood from the scalp. Anyone can be affected, but children are more prone to getting lice because of close quarters and the tendency to share items used on the head such as combs and hats. You can take action to prevent your child from having a head lice infestation.

Method 1
Helping your Child Prevent a Lice Infestation

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    Avoid head-to-head contact. Tell your children to avoid head-to-head contact with other children when they are at school, sports, or other activities (e.g. birthday parties, slumber parties, playground).[1] Head-to-head contact is the most common way for lice to spread. Children are most likely to get lice from classmates, family, and other children that they are in close contact with.[2]
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    Ask your children not to share personal care items with anyone. Hats, coats, scarves, hair accessories, combs, brushes, headphones, and towels should not be shared. Sharing these items can allow for indirect transfer of lice.[3]
    • Your child should also avoid putting his personal belongings in shared spaces such as lockers or on shared hooks.[4]
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    Ensure children do not lie down on possibly infested bedding or carpet. Indirect transfer can also occur if your child lies on a bed, couch, carpet, stuffed animal, or pillow if the item has been in contact with an infested person.[5] The risk of infestation is lower than head-to-head contact, but it is still possible.
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    Keep personal belongings separate. Children should not put their items on shared coat hooks or in shared cubbies or lockers. If the school or day care does not provide each child with his or her own space, have your child put her items in a sealed plastic bag before the items are put in the shared space.[6]
    • Also, have your child avoid playing with any dress up clothes that are shared and not washed regularly.[7]

Method 2
Taking Measures to Avoid a Lice Infestation

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    Stay updated on any outbreaks of lice in your child's daycare or school. Schools and daycares notify parents if a child has head lice infestation. Begin to monitor your child's hair and clothing for lice.[8] Under a bright light, use a fine tooth comb to comb through the hair for adult and nymph (baby) lice and their eggs (nits). Look for light brown, yellow, white, or tan seed-like objects.[9]
    • Pay special attention to the area around the ears, hairline, and nape of the neck. It is easier to spot nits in those areas. Itching in those areas can also be a symptom of lice.[10] You may also find small red bumps or sores in the scalp.
    • Inspect your child's bedding, towels, and any clothes worn in the last two days for lice.[11]
    • Remind your child to avoid head-to-head contact and sharing of personal items.
    • Continue checking until the lice infestation at school is over.
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    Clean any items that have been in contact with an infested person. Clothing, bedding, and any other items the infested person wore two days before they began lice treatment should be washed in hot water and dried on high heat as well. Items can also be dry cleaned or sealed in plastic for two weeks.[12]
    • Vacuum the floor and furniture, especially where the person sat or lay. Lice survive less than one to two days once they fall of a person so vacuuming these items is enough.[13]
    • Stuffed animals should be put in the dryer on high setting.[14]
    • Note that lice do not live on pets.[15]
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    Do not keep your children out of school. It is not necessary to keep your child home from school or daycare if another child has lice. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends that healthy children should not be kept home from school if he or she has head lice infestation or if another child at the school has head lice infestation. It is completely safe for children to finish the school day, be treated for lice, and go back to school the next day.[16]
    • The AAP has encouraged schools to change their policies that ban children with head lice infestation from attending school. No child should miss school because of lice.[17]
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    Be careful with shampoos that claim to prevent lice. Some over-the-counter hair products claim to repel lice. However, these products are usually not regulated by the Food and Drug Administration, and the safety and effectiveness of them is unknown. It is better to use proven methods to prevent lice than use these products.[18]
    • Head lice prevention products are usually more expensive than typical hair products as well and need to be used repeatedly. This can end up becoming an expensive solution without any guarantee that these products will work.[19]

Method 3
Treating Lice

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    Recognize the symptoms. The most common symptoms of head lice are itching on the scalp, neck, and ears.[20] Your child may also complain that she feels like something is crawling on her head.[21] Yellow, brown, white, or tan nits or adult or baby lice may be seen on the scalp as well. You will see clear shells if the lice eggs have already hatched.[22]
    • Not all children with lice will have an itchy scalp.[23]
    • Nits and lice are difficult to see. Make sure you have adequate light when you are looking for them. They are easier to see around the ears and nape.[24]
    • Nits are usually found in the hair close to the scalp. They may look a little like dandruff, but they don't easily come off by brushing or shaking them off.[25]
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    See a doctor. Take your child to the doctor to confirm that he has a lice infestation before you begin treatment. Sometimes parents treat children with lice when they do not have an active infestation.[26] Also, an itchy scalp could be a symptom of another disease such as dandruff or eczema.[27]
    • Your child may not experience itching until two to six weeks after the infestation.[28]
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    Try over-the-counter (OTC) medicine. Your doctor will probably recommend an OTC treatment. Make sure you ask the doctor for specific instructions regarding the timing and frequency of using these medications. Common medications include Permethrin (Nix) and Pyrethrin (Rid, A-200, Lice Killing).[29] Follow the directions on the package.
    • Hair should be shampooed and not conditioned before using one of these treatments. You can also try rinsing the hair with white vinegar before using the medicine.[30]
    • Common side effects of these medicines are redness and itching.
    • Pyrethrin should not be used if your child is allergic to ragweed or chrysanthemum.[31]
    • Continue to check everyone in your family for lice for one week after treatment is finished.[32] Pediatricians usually recommend that you repeat the treatment once after 1 week.
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    Try prescription medications. If the OTC medications do not work, your doctor can prescribe a medicine such as Benzyl alcohol (Ulesfia) and Malathion (Ovide). Benzyl Alcohol can cause redness and itching and is only recommended for children six months of age and older. Malathion should only be used by children six years of age and older.[33]
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    Wet comb the child's hair. Wet the child's hair, apply conditioner and then comb the hair with a fine-toothed nit comb to remove the lice. Hair should be combed from the scalp to the ends at least twice. Repeat this process every three or four days until the lice have been gone for two weeks.[34]
    • There is no scientific evidence that wet combing is effective for removing lice.[35]
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    Apply oils or smothering agents to the child's hair. Mayonnaise, olive oil, butter, and petroleum jelly can also be applied to the hair and scalp. Note that there is no scientific evidence that supports these home remedies,[36] and that they can be quite messy.
    • Apply these products to the hair and then cover with a shower cap. They should be left in overnight and then washed out.[37]
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    Clean the house thoroughly. Any items the infected person used in the last two days should be cleaned. This includes bedding, clothing, and hair care items. If the items cannot be put in the washing machine, they should be dry cleaned or sealed in a plastic bag for two weeks.[38]
    • Hair care items should be cleaned using hot, soapy water.
    • Bedding, stuffed animals, and clothing should be washed in hot water and dried using high heat.[39]
    • Vacuum the floor and furniture as well.


  • Head lice is very common in children. Lice are not a sign of bad hygiene or lack of home cleanliness.
  • Flammable products should never be used to treat lice.
  • Take a child of any age to the doctor if the child's scalp is very inflamed, has oozing sores or swollen lymph nodes are present during a lice infestation. A bacterial infection might have developed.
  • Take children under the age of three to a doctor. Some lice medications are not approved for children this young. Your doctor can advise you on the best treatment.
  • See your doctor if you find live lice two weeks after you start treatment.[40]

Sources and Citations

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Categories: Childhood Health