Managing Head Lice
Though there isn’t really a season for head lice, it usually is associated with kids going back to school. However, oftentimes, kids have lice all summer, but they don’t realize it since they are too busy playing to notice their scalp is itching.
Unlike body lice which is associated with poor hygiene or overcrowding in war-torn countries, head lice do not carry bacteria and they prefer clean, shiny, healthy hair in which to hide.
A few facts about head lice:
- A louse is an insect with six legs and no wings.
- They doesn’t hop like fleas and they don’t fly, but can crawl pretty fast.
- They don’t like light.
- Head lice is more common in children between ages of 3 and 11.
- There are between 12 million and 25 million infestations each year.
- It’s more common in girls than in boys. Girls tend to share brushes and barrettes, play with each other’s hair and have closer contact with each other than boys do.
- They are extremely contagious and are spread by direct head-to-head physical contact, sharing clothing, such as hats or bedding, and sharing combs or brushes with someone who has head lice.
- Head lice infest the hair on your head, as well as the eyebrows and eyelashes.
- Head lice only live on human heads and survive by on its host’s blood.
- Having head lice does not mean you have poor cleanliness.
- Head lice do not carry diseases.
Signs and symptoms:
- Extremely itchy scalp.
- Small red bumps on the scalp or neck.
- Tiny white nits on the hair close to the scalp that are difficult to remove.
- Crawling sensation on the head.
You don’t need to check your child’s head regularly unless he or she is scratching and complains of an itchy scalp. In case of infestation, it is more important to treat the child’s family members because they are at higher risk for getting lice, not so much the child’s classmates.
How to treat head lice:
Head lice are hard to find on the scalp because the minute you put light on them, they take off and are camouflaged in hair. They are also easier to see in bright light or by parting the hair to see close to the scalp. They are easier to see near the ears and the nape of the neck. The best way to look for them is to find the eggs, which measure about .8 of a millimeter. The eggs are attached with special glue to the hair. Once they’re cemented to the hair, they are going to stay there unless they’re pulled out with fingernail, tweezers, a fine comb, or the hair is cut.
If your child does have lice, try an over-the-counter insecticidal (anti-lice) shampoo, but make sure you follow the instructions closely.
Over-the-counter lotions and shampoos that contain pyrethrin—a common synthetic chemical used as an insecticide—or one-percent permethrin are often the first choice. The package directions should be followed exactly. These products may continue to kill lice for two weeks after treatment; many clinicians recommend a second treatment seven to nine days after the first.
Side effects of permethrin may include burning or stinging, itching, red skin, or numbness. Also, using them too often may lead to resistance in head lice, making them immune to the products. Don’t bother nit-picking the scalp after treating with insecticidal shampoo.
If this doesn’t work, your doctor can prescribe stronger products. Prescription-strength five-percent permethrin, malathion lotion, or benzyl alcohol lotion may be needed.There is no clear scientific evidence that lice can be suffocated by home remedies, such as mayonnaise or olive oil, but they may be suffocated by Cetaphil cleanser. Tea tree oil is another helpful natural remedy.
It is very important that the nits are removed. This can be difficult because they cling tightly to the hair. Special nit combs are available at our pharmacy and are usually included in kits such as RID and NIX. You should do a second combing seven to 10 days after the first. Nits may live for two weeks.
It’s also important to wash hats, scarves, coats, and bedding in hot water and dried in a hot dryer for at least 20 minutes. Combs and brushes should be washed and the room of the infected person should be vacuumed. These tips can help prevent another outbreak.
Children should be cautioned not to share hats, combs, or brushes with others.Policies vary regarding school attendance for children with head lice. If your child has head lice, talk to your child’s school to let them know so that other parents can be notified in case of contact.