Lice are tiny, harmless bugs that can live in people’s hair. Lice are most common during childhood. Learn how to treat your child if they have lice.

What are Lice?

Lice are tiny, harmless bugs that can live in people’s hair or scalp. In rare cases, people can also have lice in their public hair or body hair.

What Do Lice Look Like?

Lice look like tiny bugs. They are about the size of a sesame seed. Lice do not usually crawl on the scalp. Lice eggs look like grains of sand.

How Common are Lice?

Lice are very common. One out of every 4 children will have lice at some point during childhood.

What are Common Symptoms of Lice?

The most common symptom of lice is itching. Early on, your scalp might not itch. It will become itchier as the lice spread.

How are Lice Spread?

  • Head-to-head contact. This means lice can travel from one person’s head to another if the head a person with lice touches another person’s head. While pets can have lice, they have different types of lice. Do not worry about getting lice from your pets or giving your pets lice.
  • After touching a person’s clothing, bedding or towels while they have lice.

How Do I Treat Lice?

There are a few ways to treat lice. You can use one or more of these treatments to treat your child’s lice:

  • Use over-the-counter shampoos, lotions and creams. You can find many lice treatment products at your local drugstore. You do not need a doctor’s prescription. Follow the directions on the package for the shampoo, lotion or cream you buy.
  • Comb your child’s hair every day for a week with a fine-toothed comb made for combing out lice. You can find combs at your local drugstore. You do not need a doctor’s prescription.
  • Wet comb your child’s hair every 3-4 days. Wet-combing is when you use a fine-toothed comb to comb the lice out of your child’s wet hair for 15 minutes.

Other treatment tips:

  • Change your family’s clothing, bedding and towels. Wash clothing, bedding and towels in hot water. Dry them on high heat.
  • Vacuum your carpets and furniture.
  • Put things you cannot wash in an airtight bag for 2 weeks. This will help make sure the lice do not spread.

Rev. 10/2017. Reviewed by the MGHfC Family Advisory Council. MassGeneral Hospital for Children and Massachusetts General Hospital do not endorse any of the brands listed on this handout. This handout is intended to provide health information so that you can be better informed. It is not a substitute for medical advice and should not be used to treatment of any medical conditions.