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Head lice (Pediculosis capitis) is an infestation of the hair and scalp by a mite called Pediculus capitis. Head lice affects mainly children and the mite can either be passed directly by person to person contact, or indirectly when the organism is deposited on shared articles such as clothing, furniture, bed linens, or hairbrushes.1
Itching of the scalp, which can be very intense, is the most common symptom of head lice. There may be small crusts of dried blood around sites where bites have occurred, and combing with a fine-tooth comb may pick up eggs (nits) that have been attached to the hair shaft.2, 3
Maintaining a clean personal environment is essential for the prevention and control of head lice. This means that clothing, bedding, and personal hair care items such as brushes and combs should be washed regularly. Regular vacuuming of floors, furniture, and play areas will remove hairs that might harbor nits.4
Head lice and their eggs may be removed by using hair conditioner, followed by combing through the wet hair with a fine-tooth comb.5
Several home remedies have been popularized for treating head lice, including topical application of isopropyl alcohol, olive oil, mayonnaise, melted butter, and petroleum jelly. Test tube studies of these remedies found that only petroleum jelly was effective for killing lice and their eggs,6 but no human studies have investigated whether any home remedy is an effective treatment for an existing infestation.
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The information presented in Aisle7 is for informational purposes only. It is based on scientific studies (human, animal, or in vitro), clinical experience, or traditional usage as cited in each article. The results reported may not necessarily occur in all individuals. Self-treatment is not recommended for life-threatening conditions that require medical treatment under a doctor's care. For many of the conditions discussed, treatment with prescription or over the counter medication is also available. Consult your doctor, practitioner, and/or pharmacist for any health problem and before using any supplements or before making any changes in prescribed medications. Information expires June 2015.