Finding out your child has lice is embarrassing, but it shouldn’t be. There are many myths about head lice, and knowing the truth can not only help you deal with the embarrassing feelings, but also help you clean your home of them as quickly as possible.
Getting rid of lice can take time, but with diligence and consistency, your home and children will soon be lice free.
What is Head Lice?
Head lice are tiny, wingless insects that make their homes on a human scalp. Their medical name is Pediculosis humanus capitis.
They are only as large as a sesame seed, and survive by sucking blood like tick and fleas.
Their eggs are the size of a poppy seed, blend easily with hair, and are next to impossible to remove because they are held on with a waterproof substance that can not be washed away.
As the lice eggs hatch, they leave behind nits.
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These can appear as dandruff, sand or flakes of hairspray but are very difficult to remove. Children who have been sent home from school due to head lice are often not allowed back to school until the nits are completely gone, as well as the eggs and lice.
The life cycle for lice lasts roughly forty to fifty days. During the third stage, the adult stage, they are able to lay between 4 and 10 eggs every day. Lice typically spend 28 days of their lives as egg-laying adults. This clearly shows why it’s so important to remove all nits and eggs that seen, as well as killing all adult lice.
What are the Myths?
One myth is that you only get lice if you have poor personal hygiene. The fact is that lice prefer clean hair.
Lice also have the reputation of being able to hop, or jump from one person to another. The truth is that they can only crawl. Transmission requires head-to-head contact. Sharing personal items such as hats and brushes can also result in the movement of lice from one victim to another.
The primary symptom of lice is itching. If your child is scratching his or her head a great deal, or complaining that they can’t stop itching, you might want to check for lice. This is especially important if the scratching is focused behind their ears or the nape of the neck. Anytime there is a lice outbreak at the school you should do regular checks for lice.
Other symptoms include small, red bumps that appear on the scalp, neck and even shoulders. The bumps may even crust over and seep fluid. You may also notice small white specks that are attached to the ends of the hair. These are their eggs or nits, and will not come off easily.
Lice take advantage of direct contact to move from host to host. They can crawl from one person to another when they are in direct contact with each other. They can also crawl into hats, scarves and headbands. When another person puts that item on they are more than happy to move onto the next head.
They can also be transferred by sharing clothing, bedding and even stuffed animals.
Being in close, overcrowded environments can increase the risk of getting head lice. The close proximity of other hosts makes it all too easy for them to relocate. They also are commonly found in schools.
Secondary skin infections can occur as a result of the constant scratching. Try to keep your children from scratching excessively. Antihistamines can help control the itching, if necessary.
Unlike most other blood-sucking parasites, lice do not carry any diseases. Infections do not typically lead to any serious medical problems.
Babies younger than six months old, the elderly and people weighing less than 110 pounds can be at risk from the shampoo treatments, especially if the treatments have to be used several times over a few weeks.
The shampoos used have hash chemicals and should not be used with any person who has a pre-existing illness, including those with asthma and people who are taking other medications. Pregnant and nursing mothers should not use the shampoos on themselves or apply them to others.
If you have used a medicated, insecticide shampoo and continue to find live lice then you should assume that the lice are resistant to the shampoo. Do not continue using the shampoo, but consult with your doctor, or try one of the smothering methods described below.
Stress to your children that they should never share hair brushes, combs, hats or scarves with their friends. When they are visiting someone’s home, have them take their own pillows, towels and clothes as those should not be shared, either.
Talk to your child’s school or daycare about their head lice policy. Ideally, infected children should not be allowed back in the facility until they are completely free of lice, eggs or nits.
Coats and hats should be placed on one individual hook, rather than tossed in a pile with other coats, hats and scarves.
Anything that is in regular contact with your child’s head should be washed or vacuumed on a regular basis. This includes pillows, car seats, and couches.
Check your child for lice regularly. Focus on the nape of the neck and behind the ears, but keep in mind that they can live anywhere in the hair.
Checking for Lice
It’s important to know how to check for lice. They move quickly, and are very small which makes them hard to see. Be sure that the location you choose offers very bright, natural lighting. Wear disposable gloves to prevent becoming infected yourself. You should also move around your child’s scalp during the examination as this can make it easier to detect the eggs. A magnifying glass can be very useful during this process.
Part the hair and examine the scalp closely. Pay particular attention to the nape of the neck and the area directly behind the ears. Eggs and nits will appear as small specks, the size of a poppy seed; that are white or yellow-brown in color. They will be firmly attached to the hair. If you are in the sunlight during this exam, you may see adults running to get away from the light. If the speck brushes away easily, it is not lice.
Areas of red, tender skin could indicate a secondary infection due to itching. You should consider consulting with your doctor if this should happen.
Shampoo Them Out
The most common treatment for head lice are the products RID or NIX. RID offers the 1-2-3 Lice Elimination System which will give you step-by-step directions for clearing your child and your home of lice. The product is highly effective at removing lice eggs, killing lice and treating the home.
It has been used for decades by countless families. It can be found in the shampoo aisle or first aid section of most drug stores and discount stores. The components of the set can be purchased separately, with the shampoo costing about $14. The entire set will typically cost about $20.
The set includes the lice killing shampoo, a comb-out gel to help you clean nits from the hair and a spray to help keep the home clear of adult lice and their eggs. The spray is very effective for use on mattresses, furniture and other areas that can not be washed.
Permethrin (Nix) as a Key Ingredient
While these are the most common lice-killing shampoo, any lotion or shampoo that has 1% permethrin (Nix) should effectively kill the lice. If you find that these shampoos are not working, you can also talk to your doctor about a higher strength prescription. To use any of these shampoos, begin by rinsing and drying your hair.
Apply the medicated shampoo or lotion to the hair and wait ten minutes. Rinse the shampoo out of the hair and then remove all nits and eggs from the hair. The child should be checked for lice again in one week, and the treatment repeated if needed.
Side effects for these shampoos include irritated or tender skin, difficulty breathing and tightness in the chest. The shampoos should not be used near the eyes, and the time limit should be closely adhered to. Medical attention should be sought if the symptoms do not ease after the shampoo is thoroughly rinsed from the hair.
Smother Them to Death
Ulesfia (Benzyl Alcohol Lotion 5%) can be used to treat for head lice. It is used like shampoo, but is a non-pesticide prescription that has been found to be effective. It costs about $30 for an 8 ounce bottle and will suffocate the lice. This treatment is not as effective as the pesticide shampoos mentioned above, and will require more than one treatment.
Another treatment involves coating the hair with petroleum jelly, wrapping it in a shower cap and waiting overnight. This will kill more than half of the lice, and aid in removing the eggs and nits. The egg-laying ability of the remaining lice will be greatly reduced, although this would also require several treatments.
Head Lice to Dead Lice
This is an education DVD that sells for about $40.
It teaches a five-step “battle plan” that can be used to effectively eliminate current infestations and prevent them from coming back.
Entomologists at the Harvard School of Public Health have proven that olive oil can be used to kill adult head lice.
It smothers them to death, is non-toxic and easy to use. The program will clearly show how to use olive oil to smother lice, and it will teach a manageable method for cleaning the house to prevent re-infestation. It also shows effective combing techniques that will remove lice and nits, and teaches how to manually remove any stubborn nits that will not come out with just the comb.
Tips and Tricks
Removing the nits can prove challenging. Here are some tips for getting the nits out of the hair.
- Rub olive oil in the hair, and then use a nit comb to clean the hair.
- Use a metal comb, run it through beeswax before beginning the removal process.
- Fine tooth metal combs, found in pet stores, will be more effective than plastic combs. These are typically no more than $10 to purchase.
- The LiceMeister comb is a patented comb that is proven effective at easily removing lice, nits and eggs. It also runs about $10 at drug stores, and can even be sterilized through boiling.
- Use tweezers to remove all nits.
- Continue combing for nits every day for the next 7 to 10 days.
- If you continue finding new eggs, assume the lice were not killed. If you have already used a shampoo, switch to a smother method.
- The house should also be treated to both prevent the spread and prevent re-infestation.
- All residents of the house should be checked for lice, and anyone who has them should be treated immediately.
- All clothes and bedding should be washed in hot water.
- Furniture, rugs and car upholstery can be cleaned by vacuuming. Any area that the child might rest his or her head on should be washed, dried in the dryer, or vacuumed.
- Place bedding and stuffed animals in a dryer for thirty minutes to kill any adult lice.
Finding out that your child has lice is never fun. It creates embarrassment, stress and frustration. When infections linger on the stress level and frustration begin to increase. Following these tips can help you to eliminate the lice quickly. Continuing to vacuum and wash bedding and other items can help you prevent a re-infestation.
Finally, educate your children constantly on the importance of not sharing anything that touches their head to prevent another outbreak. Before you know it, you will be enjoying a lice-free home once again.