This time of year as the kids are going back to school, some may
bring home some unwanted guests… Lice! Lice are highly contagious and extremely
common. Six to 12 million American
children get head lice very year.
The head louse is a tiny, wingless parasitic insect that lives
among human hairs and feeds on tiny amounts of blood drawn from the scalp. They
can spread quickly from person to person.
“Contrary to common belief, anyone can get head lice, said Stephanie
Armstrong, RN, a registered nurse at Greenvale Pediatrics-Brook Highland. “It
doesn’t matter if you’re rich or poor, if you have clean
hair or dirty hair-- you can get lice,” she said. “Lice aren’t
dangerous but they are a nuisance and can be difficult to deal with.”
Some of the symptoms of head lice include itching and
scratching. This is due to a reaction to
the saliva of lice. Parents may also
notice small red bumps or sores from scratching. And children may complain of feeling like
something is moving around on or tickling their heads.
How to identify lice:
If your child is showing symptoms of head lice, they should be
easy to identify. The lice and the nits
(eggs) can be seen by the naked eye. “Usually
at the nape of the neck or behind the ears there are small eggs that are
attached to the hair shaft,” said Armstrong. “They
may be white or yellowish brown. They look different than dandruff as dandruff
flakes away pretty easily and quickly, while lice eggs are pretty hard to pull
Treatment for lice is highly effective. Options include over the
counter medicated shampoos as well as more natural shampoos designated for
treating lice. Armstrong says the key is
to follow directions carefully to avoid recurrence. Most treatments require a follow up application
after 7 to 10 days. This is to kill any newly hatched nits.
Still, it’s important to keep in mind that lice
medication is a pesticide. Applying too
much or using it too often can increase the risk of causing harm. Always read the product label carefully and
follow directions precisely.
Here are some simple ways to get
rid of the lice and their eggs, and help prevent a lice re-infestation:
Wash all bed linens and clothing that's been recently
worn by anyone in your home who's infested in very hot water (130°F [54.4°C]), then put them in the
hot cycle of the dryer for at least 20 minutes.
Put anything that can't be washed (like stuffed animals)
in airtight bags for at least 3 days.
Vacuum carpets and any upholstered furniture (in your
home or car), then throw away the vacuum cleaner bag.
Soak hair-care items like combs, barrettes, hair ties or
bands, headbands, and brushes in rubbing alcohol or medicated shampoo for 1
hour. You also can wash them in hot water or just throw them away.
Because lice are easily passed
from person to person in the same house, bedmates and infested family members
also will need treatment to prevent the lice from coming back.
While highly contagious, it’s important to
remember that lice cannot jump or fly.
The only way of transmitting them is by direct contact.
Teach your children to never share combs or brushes, hats,
scarves, jackets or headphones.
In addition a popular pastime of young people has become a
common lice transmitter: taking selfies! Tell children to avoid any kind of
Lice can be hard to eliminate.
If after following every recommendation your child still has lice it
could be because:
Some nits were left behind
Your child is still being
exposed to someone with lice
The treatment you're using
If your child still has lice two
weeks after you started treatment or if your child's scalp looks infected, call
your doctor. While lice can be a hassle
and embarrassing, reassure your child that anyone could get them and that there
is light at the end of the tunnel.
Be patient, follow all instructions carefully, and soon your family will
be lice free.