There are both
over-the-counter medicines and prescription products
to treat head
lice and pubic lice. Most products come as a shampoo, creme rinse, or
lotion (topical treatment) that is applied to the affected areas, left on for a
period of time, and then rinsed off. Doctors sometimes prescribe a pill to treat lice when two or more approved topical medicines have not
If lice infest the eyelashes, your doctor may prescribe an eye ointment for you.
Because body lice live in clothing, not on the body, medicines are generally not needed unless the person is severely
infested. The most common way to kill body lice and eggs is to wash clothing
and bedding in hot water [130°F (54.5°C) or higher] in a washing machine.
Over-the-counter (OTC) medicines that are recommended for head or pubic lice include:2
There are other OTC products for lice, but not all of them have good evidence that their benefits outweigh the side effects and other risks. Check the product label . Be sure to follow the directions about proper use and safety. And talk to your doctor or pharmacist about whether these products are safe for young children.
Prescription medicines that are recommended for head or pubic lice include:2
- Benzyl alcohol 5% (Ulesfia), which is used to treat head lice. It is applied to the hair on the head, left on for 10 minutes, and then rinsed off.
- Malathion lotion (Ovide), which is used to treat head lice. It is applied to hair on the head, left on for 8 to 12 hours, then
rinsed off. If lice are still present 7 to 9 days later, a second treatment
must be done.
If these OTC or prescription medicines aren't working, your doctor may prescribe a different medicine to help get rid of lice. These include ivermectin (Sklice or Stromectol), permethrin 5% (Elimite), and spinosad (Natroba). In rare cases, lindane may be prescribed. But lindane is falling out of favor because of the potential for serious nervous system side effects. The American Academy of Pediatrics no longer recommends lindane as a treatment for head lice.
Antihistamines (both prescription and nonprescription)
can help relieve the itching that often occurs with lice. These medicines may cause
drowsiness. Don't give antihistamines to your child unless you've checked with
the doctor first.
If there is a serious skin infection,
antibiotics may be needed.
What to think about
It is not necessary to remove
lice eggs from hair after treatment with topical medicines, but some people
may wish to remove them for cosmetic reasons.
Most products used
to treat lice may cause side effects if they are not used properly. Never use a
product more than two times (with less than 7 days between uses) without first
consulting a doctor.
There is some concern that lice are becoming
resistant to (can no longer be killed by) permethrin or other medicine used to
treat lice infestations. It is also possible that lice may persist after
treatment because the medicine was not used properly or because the person was
reinfected by someone else who was still infected with lice.
Wet combing is an option for infants who can't use lice medicines.