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Skin Problems & Treatments Health Center

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Scalp Problems

Head Lice

Lice are an unpleasant, but all too common ritual of childhood. More than 12 million Americans get lice each year, and most of them are children between the ages of 3 and 11. Once lice find their way into a school or summer camp, they spread quickly from head to head as children share combs, brushes, and hats.

Lice are wingless insects about the size of a sesame seed. They feed off their host's blood, and the females lay their eggs on the hair shaft close to the scalp. Although they don't cause serious illness, lice are one annoyance that children -- and their parents -- would rather live without. Having lice does not mean a child is not clean, as lice can occur in anyone.

To treat lice, parents can use an over-the-counter lice removal product containing permethrin (Nix), pyrethrin (Rid), or spinosad (Natroba). Typically, lice kits contain a specially formulated shampoo that is left in the hair for 10 minutes and then washed out, and a special fine-toothed comb to remove any eggs that remain.

Another treatment is a topical lotion called Sklice. A comb is not required with Sklice and one treatment may be all that's needed. The active ingredient is ivermectin, a powerful parasite killer. Sklice can be used in kids as young as 6 months.

Clearing up a lice infestation also requires that you thoroughly clean house. Vacuum all rugs and furniture, and wash all of the child's clothes, hats, bedding, and towels in hot water. Any items that can't be washed (such as stuffed animals) should be dry-cleaned or sealed in plastic bags for two weeks. Experts recommend that you continue to check the hair for two to three weeks to make sure that all of the lice and nits (eggs) are gone, and treat again with another lice kit after about 10 days to kill any bugs that survived the first round of treatment.


Despite the name, ringworm has nothing to do with worms. It's a fungal infection that leaves ring-shaped, scaly red rashes and patches of hair loss on the scalp. Ringworm is most common in children between the ages of 3 and 7, but it can affect adults too. The condition is spread through close contact, or by sharing hats, clothing, towels, and combs with someone who is infected. In rare cases, it's possible to catch ringworm from a dog or cat.

Ringworm on the scalp must be treated with antifungal medications taken by mouth to clear up a ringworm infection. Treatment may take up to 12 weeks. Using an antifungal shampoo may help reduce the risk of spreading the infection to family members and classmates. It's important for children who have ringworm to avoid sharing personal items so that they don't pass the infection to others.

If your child is taking antifungal medicine, she can go to school. In addition, you do not need to cut the child's hair.

WebMD Medical Reference

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