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Signs and Symptoms of Head Lice

The most common symptom of head lice is itching. This is because the head lice saliva causes an allergic reaction. Keep in mind, however, that not everyone with head lice will have symptoms.
Head lice can be anywhere on the scalp, but are most commonly seen behind the ears and on the back of the head near the neckline. When looking at the scalp, very few head lice are usually seen. This is because they move rather quickly. However, there are usually many nits (lice eggs) at the base of the scalp.
(Click Signs of Head Lice for more information.)

Diagnosing Head Lice

Head lice is diagnosed by looking closely through the hair and scalp for nits, nymphs, or adults. Finding nits within a ¼ inch of the scalp confirms that a person is infested and should be treated. If you only find nits more than a ¼ inch from the scalp (and don't see a nymph or adult louse), the infestation is probably an old one and does not need to be treated.
(Click Diagnosing Head Lice for more information.)

Treating Head Lice

The first thing to know about getting rid of head lice is that there are many options. The second thing to know is that there are no guarantees that these treatments will be 100 percent effective -- data from clinical trials are not available for all treatment options.
To get rid of head lice, you must do two things: kill the live lice on the head, and remove all the nits (eggs) from the hair. This involves three necessary treatment steps:
Treating head lice is a long process that can take up to 21 days. It is not necessary for a child to miss school once treatment begins.
(Click How to Get Rid of Head Lice to learn the proper way to nit-pick and treat the house. Click Home Remedy for Head Lice to learn about alternative treatments. This includes a discussion on some common home remedies, such as tea tree oil and olive oil.)
Written by/reviewed by:
Last reviewed by: Arthur Schoenstadt, MD
Last updated/reviewed:
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