Our No-Drama Guide to Head Lice Prevention and Treatment
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Sometimes your child brings home more than just homework from school.
With students returning to the close confines of the classroom, it’s only a matter of time until you get that first letter from the school nurse warning you that head lice have been found at your child’s school. Here’s everything you need to know about head lice prevention and treatment, including tips and products we recommend!
Unfamiliar with head lice? Here are some fast facts:
- Head lice are small, brown insects no larger than the size of sesame seeds.
- The female louse lays eggs, called nits, on the hair.
- Nits look like tiny whitish ovals, stuck firmly to the hair shaft. They usually hatch within two weeks.
- Head lice crawl. They don’t hop or fly.
- Head lice are spread easily through direct contact with an affected person.
- Less frequently they’re spread through indirect contact by sharing personal items such as combs, brushes, hats, hair accessories, bedding, etc.
- Head lice survive only by feeding on human blood.
- They need to eat every 12-24 hours, so they can’t survive away from the scalp for more than a day or two.
- Although a case of head lice scores pretty high on the yuck scale, it’s a very common occurrence among school-age children.
- They are not a sign of poor hygiene, and they have not been found to spread disease.
- Head lice don’t discriminate and they can literally happen to anyone! They aren’t interested in your hair type, your income level, or how clean your house is.
What to do if you suspect head lice
If you receive a warning that head lice are going around your child’s school (or if you see that your child is experiencing intense scalp itching), take a close look! Part their hair in several places and examine their scalp under a bright light. The lice themselves may be hard to find because they move to avoid light, but the nits may be easier to see.
If you do find evidence of head lice, take action right away! Left untreated, head lice will quickly multiply, so you need to begin treatment as soon as they’re found.
The best head lice products and treatment options
If one member of your family has head lice, check everyone else in your household, too. Anyone with head lice should have limited contact with unaffected family members until they’ve been treated. A person with head lice is contagious for as long as they continue to have live nits in their hair.
For safety and for best results, check with your pediatrician before starting any head lice treatment. Many home remedies are not scientifically proven to work, and some may even be potentially dangerous (depending upon how outlandish they are)! Seek medical advice before trying that miracle cure you read about on the Internet.
Here are some of the treatments pediatricians and school nurses most commonly recommend:
1. Pyrethrin (Rid)
Pyrethrin is a chemical compound from the chrysanthemum flower that is toxic to lice. These treatments are not recommended for people allergic to the chrysanthemum flower or ragweed. Side effects may include redness and itching of the scalp.
2. Permethrin (Nix)
Permethrin is the synthetic form of pyrethrin. Side effects may include redness and itching of the scalp.
3. A local lice treatment center
While expensive (around $200 per head in some areas), you may find that this option is worth the investment. Some lice treatment centers use non-toxic, organic solutions. Many even guarantee that your family will be lice-free after one treatment. If time is a factor and you need to make sure that the treatment works on the first try, this method might be worth the investment for your family.
4. Head lice prescription medications for persistent cases
In some regions, head lice have developed a resistance to standard OTC (over the counter) treatments. If you’ve carefully followed all of the directions for head lice removal and you can’t seem to shake them for good, your child’s pediatrician can recommend a more effective prescription treatment.
For a comprehensive guide to the treatment of head lice, check out the guidelines provided by the CDC.
Get nitpicky and remove the nits.
Keep in mind that over-the-counter treatments will kill live head lice, but they do not remove the nits.
Nit removal is a labor-intensive process, but it’s absolutely necessary for proper management of head lice. Unfortunately, there is no shortcut that will get the job done. Wear latex gloves (or something similar) to avoid getting the nits under your fingernails, and use a metal lice removal comb to comb through 1-inch sections of your child’s hair. These combs are included in many of the OTC lice removal kits available for purchase, or you can buy one here.
Give your home a thorough cleaning.
Since head lice can’t survive for too long away from the human scalp, it’s not necessary to spend a lot of time or money deep cleaning your home. There are definitely some steps you should take to help avoid reinfestation of head lice in your home, though:
- Clean all personal hats, scarves, coats, towels, and bed linens by machine washing in hot water. Follow up with at least 20 minutes in your dryer’s hot cycle.
- Anything that isn’t machine washable (helmets, stuffed animals, etc.) should be dry-cleaned or sealed in a plastic bag for two weeks.
- Soak combs and brushes in hot water (130 degrees or warmer) for five to 10 minutes.
- Vacuum everywhere you can – carpets, mattresses, upholstered furniture, car seats, etc.
Lice prevention is key.
Hip Tips for Lice Prevention:
An informal poll of our team revealed some of the preventative measures we remember our parents taking when we were young. We also discussed some of the methods we currently use to prevent lice. While you should always consult a medical professional regarding the prevention or treatment of any condition, here are some of our own best lice prevention tips – parent to parent:
- Teach your kids not to share combs, hats, helmets, coats, scarves, pillows, headphones, or any other personal item that might carry lice. Reinforce the idea that combs are in the same category as toothbrushes: something you’d never want to share!
- If your child’s school doesn’t have lockers or individual cubbies in the classroom, encourage them to store their personal belongings in their backpacks while at school.
- Remind your child to avoid head-to-head (and hair-to-hair) contact. So many of us remember our moms braiding our hair or putting it in a bun to make it harder for head lice to climb aboard.
- There is a widely-held theory that head lice actually prefer clean hair. Lots of moms credit the use of extra hair product with keeping their families lice-free. Dry shampoo for another win!
No matter how you look at it, lice is an issue many kids and families face. Make sure you’re equipped with the best prevention and treatment options.
Has your family survived a close encounter with head lice?
What are your best tips for prevention and treatment? Let us know in the comments below!