Nothing says “Back to School” like a chat about head lice, right? Head lice are really just a fact of life when you’ve got kids, teachers, or daycare workers in your life—once you know they’re around, you just have to roll with it until the problem is solved.
Lice are tiny bugs that live on the hair and scalp of humans—yes, humans. Human head lice can’t survive on animals—so, fortunately, you don’t need to check your giant, furry golden retriever every day if a child comes home with lice, or even the dreaded letter saying there’s been a case of lice in their classroom (although, I’m pretty sure Burton wouldn’t mind the extra attention!). Head lice also can’t survive more than a few days away from the head: they can’t jump or fly, but they can run very fast, which is why people can only get them through direct contact with another person’s head or something that has had direct contact with the head of another person who has head lice, such as a brush or comb, hat, clothing (think hooded shirts or t-shirts) or hair accessories.
What to Look For
So you got the dreaded letter home, the daycare posted a sign for parents on the clipboard, or you’re just a little suspicious because the kid has been scratching their head a lot recently: here’s how to check for lice.
- In an area with good lighting, or during daylight, check hair at the base of the hair near the scalp, behind the ears, and on the neck (hairline) 
- The above picture shows nits, nymphs, and lice—what they look like, and their size compared to a penny 
- Nits (eggs) are often found behind the ears . Nits attach themselves to hair, most commonly closer to the scalp, and can be combed out with a special comb—once combed out, they will not survive. Nymphs (baby lice) and mature lice will die within 2 or 3 days if not attached to the scalp, as they feed on blood via the scalp . However, this means in the initial few days after discovering lice, it is important to continue checking.
- Part hair in small sections and look carefully at each section within the first quarter inch from the scalp. Nits are most likely to be found in this area of the scalp. Nits can be removed with your fingers/fingernails, or with a lice brush.
Dealing with lice.
- Using a fine-toothed comb, known as a nit comb, comb through hair to rid the hair of as many live lice and nits as possible. This is the best method of eradicating lice! It may help to put conditioner on hair before combing 
- If desired, a nit treatment (shampoo), available over-the counter, to kill any live lice and nits. Repeat as instructed by the product’s directions—usually a second treatment is ordered after 3, 7 or 10 days depending on the product.
- It has been demonstrated that many lice are resistant to these products, so you may be spending a lot of money for nothing, per Consumer Reports . The best way to get rid of lice is to manually comb out and remove lice and nits. 
- While there are claims of home remedies for lice to exist, it is not certain if these work. Proceed with caution.
- Continue to comb the hair daily with a nit comb until hair is lice and nit free.
- Change and wash bedding, clothing, and stuffed toys that may have come in contact with lice as soon as treatment begins so they do not reattach to hair. Lice and nits will die easily with a typical hot-water cycle in a washing machine and dryer.
- Items that cannot be washed can be placed in the freezer for 24 hours to kill lice that may be present.
If you’re unsure if you or a family member have head lice, a doctor, public health nurse, childcare worker, or teacher can check you or your child for head lice. You may also consult a hairdresser, however, call ahead as they may have varying preferences on checking someone inside their shop or salon. While there are many alternative treatments for lice, most have not been researched—however, if conventional treatments fail (as many varieties of lice have become resistant), an alternative method as mentioned above may be considered at your own risk. It is also considered courteous to inform those whom you have shared spaces with that you have discovered lice on your hair, as it will help them take the correct precautions—lice don’t discriminate: dirty or clean hair, hair with and without products… if you’ve got hair to hide in and a scalp to feed off of, lice are interested in your head, so be diligent!