Itching in the Scalp or Lice/Nits in the Scalp
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Itching in the Scalp or Lice/Nits in the Scalp

Lice and nits are tiny parasites that can infest the scalp. They are most commonly spread through contact with an infected person, but can also be transmitted through shared objects or clothing. Lice feed on blood and can cause severe irritation and itching in the scalp. Nits are the eggs of lice, and they attach to the hair shaft very securely. They are very difficult to remove, and often require the use of a special nit comb. If you suspect that you or your child has nits or lice in the scalp, it is important to seek treatment right away.

Symptoms Of Lice/Nits in the Scalp

The most common symptom is an itchy scalp, and visible nits or live lice in the hair. Other common symptoms include:

  • Severe itching:  Lice and nits can cause a great deal of itching in the scalp, especially if they are numerous.
  • Sparse hair: Lice and nits can leave the scalp feeling greasy and make the hair look thin and unhealthy.
  • Small red bumps: Bumps on the scalp may be a sign of lice or nits.
  • Sores on the shoulders, neck, and scalp:  Lice can sometimes cause sores on the skin if they are not removed quickly.
  • Nits or lice eggs on hair shafts:  If you look closely, you may be able to see nits or lice eggs on the hair shafts.
  • Tickling feeling: Many people report a tickling feeling on the scalp when there are lice or nits present.

Causes of Itching in the Scalp/Lice/Nits in the Scalp

Head Lice / Pediculosis Capitis: Lice feed on blood and can survive up to two days off the head. They lay eggs, or nits, on hair shafts close to the scalp. The nits hatch in about one week and the lice mature and reproduce in another week.  Lice cannot fly or jump.

There are many causes of head lice, but the most common is person-to-person contact. Head lice are not caused by poor hygiene and they are not a sign of being dirty. Anyone can get lice on the scalp, including children and adults of all ages, races, and religions. Lice mostly spread through:

  • Items shared among family members or friends, like hats, scarves, hairbrushes, and combs
  • Contact with an infested person's head

Less often, lice may spread through:

  • Sitting on a seat or couch where someone with lice has recently sat
  • Touching bedding, clothing, or other personal items of an infested person

What are the treatment options for lice/nits in the scalp?

Oral and Topical Medications:

Most lice/nits in the scalp are treated with over-the-counter topical medication. If the infestation is more severe, an oral medication may be prescribed. It is important to follow the directions carefully and to reapply the treatment as directed, even if all of the lice/nits appear to be gone. Failure to do so may result in a reinfestation.

Oral medications for head lice treatment include anti-louse shampoos, pills, and lotions. Topical medications include over-the-counter and prescription creams, lotions, and shampoos. Some treatments are available as a combination of oral and topical medications. Consult a healthcare professional if you are unsure which treatment is best for your situation.

Suggested/Recommended treatments