Head Lice

Head lice are tiny insects that can live on the skin covering your head (your scalp). 

Lice spread by close contact with other people or sharing items with lice on them. They are more common in close living conditions. Personal hygiene has nothing to do with getting head lice.

Overview of head lice

Head lice infect hair on the head. Tiny eggs on the hair look like flakes of dandruff. However, instead of flaking off the scalp, they stay in place.

Lice feed on human blood. They can live up to 30 days on a human and their eggs can live for more than two weeks.


  • Intense itching of the scalp.
  • Small, red bumps on the scalp, neck, and shoulders (bumps may become crusty and ooze).
  • Tiny white specks (eggs, or nits) on the bottom of each hair that are hard to remove.

Having head lice causes itching but it does not lead to serious medical problems. Unlike body lice, head lice never carry or spread diseases.


You can get head lice if you:

  • Have close contact with a person who has lice.
  • Touch the clothing or bedding of someone who has lice.
  • Share hats, towels, brushes, or combs of someone who has lice.

I think I have lice, or I've been exposed

Have a friend check or use a bathroom mirror. 

Head lice can be hard to see. You need to look closely.

  • Use disposable gloves and look at the head under a bright light (full sun outside or a flashlight with a magnifying glass). 
  • Part the hair all the way down to the scalp in very small sections.
  • Head lice are found most often on the back of the neck and behind the ears. Begin at the lower hairline and work your way up.
  • Examine the scalp and hair for moving lice and eggs (nits). To make sure these are nits and not dandruff, try to remove them with your finger. If they come off easily, they're likely dandruff. If they are difficult to remove, they're likely nits.  
  • Repeat the process for the entire head, paying closest attention to warmer spots.

How to treat lice


Over-the-counter lotions and shampoos containing 1% permethrin (Nix) are typically fastest at killing adult lice and best at killing nits. If these products don't work, a health care provider can give you a prescription for stronger medicine. One application is often sufficient, but always use these products exactly as directed by your provider or on the medication. 

Nits (lice eggs)

You also need to get rid of the lice eggs (nits) to keep lice from coming back.

  • Remove the eggs with a nit comb. Before doing this, rub olive oil in the hair or run the metal comb through beeswax. This makes the nits easier to remove.
  • Metal combs with very fine teeth are stronger and work better than plastic nit combs. These combs can be found in pet stores or on the internet.
  • Comb for nits again in 7 to 10 days.

When treating lice, wash all clothes and bed sheets in hot water with detergent. This helps prevent head lice from spreading to others during the short period when head lice can survive off the human body.

Ask your provider if people who share bedding or clothes with the person who has head lice need to be treated as well.

When to see a provider

Call Student Health Services at 513-529-3000 or another provider if you still have symptoms after home treatment or if you develop areas of red, tender skin (could signal an infection).


  • Never share hair brushes, combs, hair pieces, hats, bedding, towels, or clothing with someone who has head lice.
  • Avoid head-to-head contact. This is the easiest way for lice to spread.
  • Wash items that may have been exposed to lice in hot water (130° F). They should be dried in the dryer on a high heat setting. Other items can be dry-cleaned or sealed in a plastic bag and stored for two weeks. Combs and brushes that have been used by an infested person should be soaked in hot water for 5-10 minutes.

Information provided by TriHealth through A.D.A.M.