As kids head back to school this fall, more often than not a handful of them will come home with an itchy scalp. Head lice, aka pediculus humanus capitis, is not an indication of cleanliness and is quite common – affecting an estimated 6-12 million children each year in the U.S.
Lice are passed from person-to-person. They need human blood to live, and the lice access this by crawling up the hair shaft and making tiny bites into the scalp, which can cause significant itching. The lice themselves do not spread disease; however, if a child itches their scalp vigorously they may create an open sore putting them at risk for infection.
The initial signs of head lice include severe scalp itching and the visualization of tiny light-brown or light-grey bugs on the hair, skin or clothing. Nits, or lie eggs, can sometimes be seen as tiny yellow, tan or brown dots that are firmly adhered to the hair shaft.
It is important to treat your home after a known case of lice. Making sure to clean items like brushes and combs in hot water, and placing items light bedsheets, pillowcases, towels and even stuffed animals in the washer and dryer on hot water and hot temperature drying settings will help ensure the eradication of these pests from your home.
Most cases of lice can be treated with at-home shampoos and lotions, with treatment spaces 7-9 days apart. If you or your child has a persistently itchy scalp or a known case of lice that does not resolve with over the counter treatments, it is time to see a dermatology provider.
Brooke Moss, PA-C, MPH is a board certified dermatology Physician Assistant. She is currently accepting new patients in our Edina and Downtown Minneapolis offices.