Every school year, just as we settle into early mornings, soccer practice in the afternoon and “meet the teacher” nights , we get “the letter”. You know the one. Someone in your child’s class has been diagnosed with head lice and you need to check your child’s hair. The lice announcement is usually followed by a litany of things to do if you find it. Many a mom never gets past the first sentence because the thought of lice immediately makes her FREAK OUT. While lice are a nuisance and don’t cause disease, most moms cannot bear to even think about bugs crawling on their child. Their own heads immediately begin to itch. If they do find lice on their kids, they blame themselves, their neighbors, their school. The blame game in terms of lice is futile. Just as most moms don’t try to track down the source of the stomach virus their child brought home, becoming a lice detective is not productive.
There ARE a few do’s and don’t that will help a family weather a lice outbreak.
DO check your child’s hair in bright natural light if possible. Lice and their eggs camouflage to the color of the hair they are in. Live lice move very quickly through hair and their eggs (nits) are oval shaped and literally glued to the hair shaft. They cannot be flicked away like dandruff.
DON’T count on your local drugstore to have the remedy you need to combat lice. Approximately 60% of head lice are resistant to the common over the counter pesticides. It is important to remember that there is NO over the counter remedy that destroys lice eggs (nits). The pesticide might kill the live bugs but all eggs must be manually removed or the population will flourish again when they hatch. A common misstatement is “Our family has had lice four times this year”. It is likely the family has had the same case for months and is failing to get rid of it by leaving some nits behind after treatment
DO invest in a good quality lice comb. Combs like the Terminator are metal with long closely fitted spiral tines. These combs make checking for lice much simpler as they catch both lice and their eggs easily. They work well for lice treatment and also for quick periodic checks when “the letter” comes home or weekly to make sure nothing is brewing.
DON’T put mayonnaise on your child’s head. Olive oil or products like Lice Ice can be safely used to suffocate live bugs, but mayonnaise can spoil on a child’s head just like at the picnic. If you use a suffocating agent, you must leave it on the hair for at least 6 hours as lice can go dormant (hold their breath) for that long. Nits must still be picked out the hair.
DO check everyone in the household and other close contacts. Siblings have a 75% chance of having lice if one is infected and 50% of moms will have it also. Treating everyone at the same time will increase the likelihood of getting it out of the house for good.
DON’T throw away clothes, linens, toys or even hair accessories. While many websites will say that you have to wash, vacuum, isolate or throw away household items, lice need human blood to live. They die relatively quickly off the head. If an item has been in contact with a lice- riddled head in the previous 48 hours, dry it on high heat if possible. If it cannot be dried, put it in a plastic bag or in the freezer for 2 days. Lice cannot live any longer than that off of a head. Eggs are unlikely to hatch off the head. Lice travel very slowly and clumsily when removed from hair. Concentrate on getting all nits off of the affected head and the battle is essentially won.
DO tell. Yes tell the class, tell the team, tell the moms from the sleepover. One way to get rid of lice in a community is for other families to know that there is a problem. Head lice just happens. The oldest nit was found on an ancient mummy. Stone age moms carved stone lice combs to get it out of their caves. If someone brags that lice have never invaded their family, chances are their time will come.
Know that this is a problem that can be outsourced. There are lice treatment professionals in most major cities that can take care of the problem for you. Look for a lice salon that uses nontoxic products and offers a recheck and a guarantee for the treatment. Some insurance companies will even reimburse for this service.
Armed with knowledge and myths dispelled, moms can face the dreaded lice letter and get lice taken care of without the freak out. Deep breaths, a sense of humor and maybe a glass of wine will go a long way in getting the family through this nuisance and back to all the activities the school year has in store.
This information was offered by Karen Greenberg, a Family Nurse Practitioner and Co-Owner of MadCaps Lice Removal Salon in Austin, TX. MadCaps is committed to reducing the stigma and providing fact based information related to head lice. Call (512) 452-5423 for more information.
Mad Caps is offering 15% off any service if you mention the Austin Kid’s Directory when booking your appointment!