Lifting the Lid on Lice
You know the word “lice” makes your skin crawl, but much else about the sesame seed-sized, parasitic insects remains a mystery to you.
Nothing about lice is big, but if someone in your household, particularly a child, becomes infested, they can have an outsized effect on your life.
Start with the symptoms: The sight of one’s child constantly scratching his head — lice saliva prompts an immune system response that manifests as itchiness — and the sores this can cause are tough for any parent to take. In addition to physical symptoms, children infested with lice can lose sleep and become irritable from nights spent scratching; lice activity increases after dark.
Shampoo, Rinse, Comb, Repeat
Many parents are able to successfully treat head lice in their children at home, but the process can be tedious. In children 2 months old and younger, parents must remove lice by hand; for older children, a combination of washing the child’s hair with an over-the-counter medicated lice treatment and removing lice and their eggs, called nits, with a lice comb may do the trick. Following the instructions on the medication packet is crucial — you’ll likely need to continue using the lice comb for several weeks and retreat the hair with the medicated solution about a week after the first treatment.
Attending to your child’s infested head constitutes only half of lice treatment; the other half is treating anything in your home your child’s hair might have touched, including bedding, clothes, stuffed animals, brushes and combs. A general rule of thumb for fabrics: Machine wash in hot water and dry in the dryer on the highest temperature setting for at least 10 minutes.
Keep Your Head to Yourself
Lice are flightless and can’t jump. Anyone can get them, but they spread most easily among young children because preschoolers and elementary schoolers are more likely than older children and adults to be in close contact with each other, facilitating head-to-head transmission. As parents, we love when our children share — just not when they swap pillows, brushes, hair ties, towels or other potential lice transmitters.
To prevent lice infestation, instruct your children to avoid coming into contact with other children’s heads, if possible, and not to use or share any items that may touch someone else’s head. If your child’s school notifies you of a lice infestation in your child’s class, perform a lice and nit check every three days for two to three weeks. Look for tiny, yellowish spots where each hair meets the scalp; these are nits, and they’re usually easier to spot than adult lice, which can be darker in color and move fast.
With commitment to prevention, your child will stand an excellent chance of keeping creepy crawlies out of his curls.
A lice infestation that persists after several weeks of home treatment may require help from a medical professional, such as a dermatologist. To find a Texas Health dermatologist near you, visit TexasHealth.org.