- Family and Parenting
Does My Child Have Head Lice? Yikes!
treatments for head lice
Head lice! If you want a quick lesson in the power of suggestion, just start a conversation about head lice in a group of people and watch closely for their reaction. You’ll notice that they all gradually begin to start scratching their heads. It practically never fails! Just the thought of vermin crawling on our bodies is enough to give most of us the willies, and it seems even worse when the critters are crawling around - and breeding - on our heads. I mean, that's so close to our faces!
Actually, there are three types of lice that feed on human blood – head lice, pubic lice, and body lice. They’re three separate species, although they’re similar in appearance and habit. Head lice is the most common species in the US. In fact, it’s very common, especially in schools. Luckily, head lice pose no threat of disease, but they’re still nasty. Most parents are horrified when they discover that their children have lice. If you're not sure what lice look like, refer to the head lice photos below.
How do kids get head lice?
It’s very easy for kids to get head lice. They’re spread from child to child by sharing combs, hairbrushes, hats, caps, and coats. Young children often nap side by side at school, so the lice have a human buffet. They can crawl at will from one young head to another, in order to feed and breed. They're like little opportunistic vampires.
Let’s say a kid with lice leans his head against a wall, and a louse climbs onto the wall. Your kid is behind that one in line and leans his head against the same spot. Voila! Your child now has a louse. And if it’s a pregnant female (which I’m convinced they all are), it’s going to lay eggs in your child’s hair. Then the lice could infest your entire family and your home once they hatch!
How do I know if my child has lice?
If you notice your child scratching his head frequently, he might have head lice. The lice themselves are hard to see because they’re so quick, but you can look for the eggs, which are called nits.
Nits are tiny tear-shaped eggs that are glued to the hair shaft by the female louse. Before they hatch, they’re brown. After they’ve hatched, the eggs are cream colored. Refer to the pictures below.
When searching your child’s head for nits, part the hair into small sections and look closely. The nits can be anywhere on the head, but the favorite spots are the nape of the neck and behind the ears. Freshly laid eggs will usually be near the scalp.
Treatments for head lice
Head lice treatments are readily available, but some are better than others. Commercial preparations in the form of shampoos will kill any live lice and most of the unhatched eggs. There are also some natural head lice treatments. Sometimes it might require several treatments for head lice. Check the date on lice shampoo. If the shampoo has expired, you might as well use plain water.
After you've used the treatments head lice, the nits must be removed manually. You can buy a special fine toothed comb for nit removal, or you can use your fingernails. Each nit must be stripped from the hair shaft. Place the nits in a container of bleach, in case some haven’t hatched yet.
Further treatments for head lice include washing all bedding in hot water and placing in the dryer. If the infestation was heavy, you might have to “bomb” your house with an insecticide to kill any head lice that might be in the carpet, on the furniture, and in other spots.
Combs and brushes also need to be washed in boiling water to make sure any lice are killed. Also, it’s important not to send your kids back to school until they’re free of lice. If you send an infected child back to school too soon, the problem could become a virtual head lice epidemic.
Head lice don’t discriminate between rich and poor. Like the old Southern adage goes, “It’s no shame to get lice, but it’s shameful to keep ‘em!” In view of the fairly simple treatments for head lice, I'll have to agree. Anyone can get head lice, and an infestation is not necessarily a sign of poverty or neglect. It's more a matter of being in the wrong place at just the right time. Most people also assume that head lice are found only in dirty hair and on dirty heads, which isn't true. According to my doctor, the head lice actually do better in clean hair because the "glue" works better for attaching the nits or eggs. With oily hair, the glue doesn't work as well.