Top of the page
Head lice are tiny insects that live close to the scalp where they lay and attach their eggs.
Every year, millions of children get head lice. They are common because they can spread anytime a child's head comes into contact with another child's head or hair. For example, lice can spread at school or daycare, on a playground, during sports, or at slumber parties.
Lice can live a month on the head. But they can only survive 1 to 2 days without the warmth of a person's head. And they can't hop or jump.
It's common to get lice from direct contact with someone's head. It's not common to get lice from a bed, pillow, couch, or carpet.
Getting lice can be inconvenient. But lice aren't dangerous, and they don't spread disease or have anything to do with how clean someone is. And you can learn how to treat lice at home.
The first sign of head lice may be an itchy feeling on the scalp. But not everyone has itching, and not all itching means you have lice.
A health professional can check for lice and their eggs (called nits). But you can also check your child's scalp for lice and nits.
To check for lice, use a fine-toothed comb. Part small sections of hair in a place with good light. If you have a magnifying glass, it can help you see the lice and nits in the hair.
It's important to treat head lice, because they won't go away without treatment.
There are several over-the-counter medicines that kill lice. Most of them are creams or shampoos that you put on your scalp for a certain amount of time. Each type of medicine is a little different. It's important to use any medicine correctly and to choose a medicine that is safe for you.
You can also talk to the pharmacist to understand how to use a medicine and make sure that it is safe for you.
Head lice are contagious. That means they can spread from one person to another. But you can take steps to prevent that.
Call your doctor now if:
Call your doctor if:
Other Works ConsultedKnowles S, Shear NH (2015). Scabies and lice. Compendium of Therapeutic Choices. Ottawa: Canadian Pharmacists Association. https://www.e-therapeutics.ca. Accessed December 2, 2015.
Adaptation Date: 7/31/2020
Adapted By: Alberta Health Services
Adaptation Reviewed By: Alberta Health Services
To learn more about Healthwise, visit Healthwise.org.
© 1995-2020 Healthwise, Incorporated. All rights reserved. Healthwise, Healthwise for every health decision, and the Healthwise logo are trademarks of Healthwise, Incorporated.