Let’s be honest, at the mention of the word lice most parents cringe and start to scratch their heads. The good news is that these creepy crawlies are a benign nuisance. The bad news is that they can be difficult to detect and eradicate. We hope to shed some light on this topic and provide some useful tips for preventions and treatment.
Every year 12 million children are affected by lice. Anyone can catch lice, but the most common ages are 5 – 12. Lice are a type of bug that attach to the hair so that it can feed on the blood from the scalp. This is what causes the itchiness of the scalp. Before we talk facts, we should debunk the myths:
Myth #1: Only dirty children get lice.
Lice actually prefer clean hair because it is easier to adhere to the hair follicles.
Myth #2: Lice can jump on you from across the room.
Lice can only crawl. It is true that lice are quite fast when they crawl, but they cannot jump or fly.
Myth #3: My pet gave us lice.
Lice only feed on human blood.
Myth #4: Lice die as soon as they leave the human body.
Lice can live about 48 hours away from a human scalp. The nits (lice eggs) can survive for about 10 days.
The most common and easiest sign is an itchy head. That being said, not all itchy scalps are a sign of lice. Lice (singular louse) are very small, about the size of a sesame seed. They color ranges from tan, brown or gray. Depending on your child’s hair color, lice may be easier or harder to detect. The best way to check for lice is to use a bright light and a magnifier. The main places that you want to check are behind the ears and the nape of the neck. It is easiest to part your child’s hair into sections when trying to detect lice.
Lice eggs, or nits, are actually easier to see than the lice because they don’t move. A female louse can lay up to 400 eggs in a 3 week cycle. Nits are tiny white oval sized eggs that are attached near the scalp. Unlike dandruff, nits can’t be shaken, brushed, or washed off.
Now that you’ve detected these creepy crawlers, try not to pull out your hair. The best way to eliminating lice is a very methodical approach. It is also best to act quickly.
Step 1: There are over the counter treatments available which will kill lice and eggs. This used to be the mainstay for lice treatment. Unfortunately, there are now lice “super-bugs” that are resistant to many over the counter remedies. In general, it does not hurt to try an over the counter treatment in the hopes of jump starting the process. Because however there is resistance, you shouldn’t rely on this as your sole method of treatment.
Step 2: This is probably the most important part of the process, removal of nits. It is imperative to use a lice comb to remove the nits (even if they are presumed to be dead). Many of the lice combs found as part of a kit are not strong enough and don’t work as well. Try to find a well made metal nit comb. This part of the process requires extreme patience. Put on a video for your child and settle in. This is going to take several hours. Part your child’s hair into very small sections. This is helpful not only for the nit comb but also to differentiate which sections you have appropriately combed through. Clean the comb completely with a tissue and throw the tissue into a sealed plastic bag after each comb through of the hair.
*There are many schools of thought in terms of applying olive oil or another smothering agent after using the nit comb. These can certainly be helpful, but please never put your child to bed with a plastic bag covering their oiled hair. Additionally, please do not attempt to kill the lice and eggs on your child’s head using a blow dryer. Feel free to ask your pediatrician more about “natural remedies”.
Step 3: Preventing re-infestation. As mentioned above lice and nits can live outside the body for a short period of time. For instance, they can be on your couch, rug, bedding, etc.
- Vacuum – furniture, rugs, cars, throw pillows and blankets.
- Wash – anything that can be washed in hot water and dried on hot heat. Hot water and a hot dryer will kill lice and eggs.
- Boil – combs, brushes, hair clips, headbands.
- Dry clean – items that cannot be washed.
- Bag – blankets, stuffed animals, etc. Keep in a sealed bag for 2 full weeks without opening.
In general, your child should avoid sharing other people’s brushes, hair items, hats, and helmets. In addition, hair should be tied back or braided as much as possible. A small amount of hairspray can keep the hair in place and make it harder for the lice to adhere to the hair. You can buy certain sprays and shampoos that contain natural scents that deter lice (tea tree oil, citronella, rosemary, etc.).
Although there is no need to pay for a service to eradicate lice in your home there are several businesses in this area of Connecticut that will help you to do so. Please feel free to contact your pediatrician if there are any questions regarding this hair raising topic.