What to Do If Your Children (or You!) are Affected
Thinking about lice can make you automatically start to scratch your head. Whether a note has come home from school or your child has begun to complain of an itchy scalp, you may meet the thought of dealing with lice with dread. Rest assured; a specialized comb and medicated shampoo will get your child lice-free and help prevent the spread of lice to other family members.
How Lice Are Transmitted
Lice are tiny parasites that attach themselves to human heads and feed on blood from the scalp. They do not carry disease, nor are they a sign of dirty hair. Because lice cannot fly or jump, but only crawl, they are typically transmitted by head-to-head contact. It’s also possible for lice to spread through items such as hats, combs and brushes, and pillows and towels. This type of transmission is less likely since lice can only live for a day or so without a food source.
Lice can be treated by using over-the-counter shampoo designed specifically to kill lice. It’s important to carefully follow the directions on the label, which may include using two treatments at specified times. Note that the shampoo will not kill recently laid eggs. Therefore, you should invest in a metal, fine-toothed comb, often called a “nit comb,” to remove the eggs. Applying conditioner to wet hair may ease the job of running the comb through the hair. Sectioning off the hair and running the comb from root to tip can help ensure you have removed as many eggs as possible. Pay special attention to the areas behind the ears and at the nape of the neck, where lice often congregate. You may have to repeat this process every few days for at least two weeks to ensure you have found all the eggs. If you are having difficulty getting rid of lice or are wondering whether they’re completely gone, consult your doctor for further advice.
Cleaning Your Home
Because lice are typically spread through head-to-head contact, check the hair of each member of your household. Lice can only live on human heads, so it’s not necessary to check pets. Once treatments have begun for anyone in the house who has lice, take a few cleaning measures to ensure your home is lice-free. Place combs, brushes and hair accessories like barrettes in a pot of water and boil them for five to 10 minutes. Put items such as scarves, hats, stuffed animals, sheets and blankets, pillows and jackets in the dryer on high heat for 30 minutes. Vacuum mattresses, carpets and upholstery as well as car seats and headrests in your vehicle. You can put items such as helmets and hats that can’t go in the dryer in the freezer for a day; then wipe them clean. Place other large items that may have come into contact with lice in a plastic bag for a couple of weeks.
It can be difficult to prevent lice if outbreaks have occurred at places your child attends regularly, such as day care or school. However, you can teach your child to take a few preventative measures. Teach her not to share brushes and combs or hats and scarves. She should always hang her clothing on her own hook at daycare or school. If you discover that lice have been found at school or daycare, carefully comb through your child’s hair to see if she has been affected, so you can start treatment right away.
If your child has lice, she may feel embarrassed or as if she isn’t clean. Reassure her that it isn’t her fault and that she hasn’t done anything wrong. Calmly begin the course of checking family members’ hair, treating the lice and cleaning items in your house. Take steps to prevent the spread of lice; if all else fails, you know what to do next time!
A mother of two, Erin Agnello writes about parenting, relationships and education. Her work has appeared on sites including The Bump and Mom.me. Agnello has been teaching since 2001 and works in special education and early literacy. She holds a B.A. in psychology from Wilfrid Laurier University and a B.Ed. from Windsor University.