Head lice can be a very disturbing discovery for parents. After all, part of the job description of being a parent is to take care of your child, which includes food, shelter and everything else in between. The diagnosis of pediculosis aka head louse is actually a common problem that many families face especially in the fall. This communicable disease occurs due to head to head transmission in children. It is usually found by the school nurse or a parent checking for the little buggers due to an “outbreak” either in the school, on the sports team or any child friendly haunt.
There are a lot of misconceptions regarding head lice. Some of these myths include the following:
- Head lice jump from person to person. This is not true. Lice can spread by the use of shared personal items such as brushes, combs, hats and clothing.
- Lice are due to poor hygiene. Definitely not, lice prefer clean heads because they can attach their eggs (nits) to clean hair easier than dirty hair.
- It is difficult to treat. Certainly not difficult but tedious. It is time consuming because one needs to cover all the bases so they are eradicated.
- Animals can carry lice. No, lice can only live on humans.
Pediculosis affects 6 to 12 million kids in the U.S. each year. The biggest problem today is that some lice have become resistant to the over-the-counter remedies. Here are some signs that your child may have lice:
- A tickling feeling of something moving in the hair.
- Itching is caused by an allergic reaction to the scalp bites of the louse (bug).
- Irritability and difficulty sleeping are common in children. Head lice are active in the dark.
Head lice and their eggs (nits) perish if separated from their human host. Adult head lice can live only a day or so without a scalp). Nits (head lice eggs) generally die within a week away from the human scalp. The female louse deposits her eggs near the human scalp so the human body warmth will incubate her eggs (nits) until they hatch.
Most over the counter lice treatments contain permethrin. It is important to follow the directions. Having to re-treat the hair with the same chemical treatment a week after the initial treatment is common. Detangling the hair and combing out the lice and nits with a fine toothed comb before chemical treatment is essential. Do not use shampoo or conditioners 2-3 days after treatment application. Shampooing and conditioning will decrease the treatment’s effectiveness. Your health care provider can prescribe a chemical treatment if you feel that the OTC remedy has not worked.
There is a litany of home remedies for head lice. Some remedies are better than others but parents must consider their children’s best interest. Not all methods are appropriate for children. Here are some helpful hints to prevent re-infestation:
- If crawling lice or nits are found, all household members should be examined for crawling lice and nits every 2–3 days.
- Wash bedding, caps, scarves and towels in hot water. Use the clothes dryer on a hot setting.
- Soak combs and brushes in very hot, soapy water. Vacuum floors, pillows, upholstered furniture and car seats. Items that cannot be washed can be placed in a sealed garbage bag for 3 weeks. This will kill all lice and eggs.
- Don't share combs, brushes, barrettes, hats, shirts, scarves or pillows.
- Blow drying hair can kill lice since the blow dryer’s air is hot.
Knowledge is power. Being well informed about head lice can help prevent infestation and eradicate lice if needed. After all, having hair makes it a good hair day especially since we observe October as “Breast Cancer Awareness Month”. Let us acknowledge those who have lost hair to chemotherapy and radiation. Don’t let lice bug you. Stay well.