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Head Lice Prevention

Written by the Healthline Editorial Team | Published on April 24, 2013
Medically Reviewed by George T. Krucik, MD, MBA on April 24, 2013

A Difficult Task

Kids at school and in childcare settings are going to play, and their play may lead to the spread of head lice. However, you can take steps to prevent the spread of lice among children and adults.

Read through this article to learn some prevention techniques.

Teach and Practice Good Habits

To reduce the chance of you or your child contracting a case of head lice, start by not sharing items that touch the head. Though it may be tempting to share personal belongings (especially for kids), doing so can lead to the spread of head lice. Avoid sharing:

  • combs and brushes
  • hair clips and accessories
  • hats and bike helmets
  • scarves and coats
  • towels
  • headsets and earbuds

Don’t Go Head-to-Head

When kids play, they may naturally place their heads close together. (Think about when they pal around with their arms around each other’s shoulders.) But if your child’s friend has head lice, your young one may come home with it.

Ask your child to avoid games and activities that lead to head-to-head contact with classmates and other friends. Adults—especially those who work with children—would be wise to follow the same principle.

Space It Out

Shared spaces as well as shared belongings can be breeding grounds for lice. Closets, lockers, drawers, and common clothes hooks can create an easy opportunity for lice to pass from one person’s things to another’s.

Ask your child to keep their belongings—especially hats, coats, scarves, and other clothing—out of common areas. For safety’s sake, adults should take similar precautions.

What to Do When You Know

It’s not always easy to know who has head lice and who doesn’t. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), sometimes it can take up to six weeks for those contaminated with lice to experience symptoms like itching.

Other times, a parent will notice that their child has head lice before it’s an epidemic. When you have this information, be sure that you and your child avoid touching the furniture, beds, clothing, and towels of someone with lice.

Early Actions

Schools may at times report a head lice infestation so that parents can take preventive measures with their families. If this happens, take these actions as soon as possible:

  • Look in your child’s hair for small white nits, the eggs of lice.
  • Inspect your child’s clothes—particularly hats, shirts, scarves, and coats—that have been worn during the past 48 hours, looking for lice and eggs.

Other Ideas

When your child’s school reports a head lice infestation, you can also:

  • Check household items that are more likely to get infested with lice and their eggs, such as towels, bedding, and rugs.
  • Be sure your child knows the importance of not sharing any items that touch the head or ears.
  • Explain to your child what lice is and that they should avoid touching heads with other children until the school has contained the problem.

Medicines May Not Prevent Lice

According to the Mayo Clinic, more research is needed to prove the effectiveness and safety of over-the-counter (OTC) medicines that claim to prevent lice.

While a few studies have suggested certain ingredients in OTC products—including rosemary, lemongrass, tea tree, citronella, and eucalyptus—may repel lice, these products aren’t regulated or approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

Take Precautions

When people—especially kids—come into close contact or share belongings, lice can easy pass from one person to another. This is true even if you teach children good hygiene and practice it yourself. But by taking some precautions, you may be able to prevent your child from getting or spreading lice.

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