Head Lice: Preventing and Treating Tips
The school year is well on its way, and that means the head lice are getting around! School brings lots of young, active children together in close quarters which makes a lovely breeding ground for lice. In the United States, it is believed that about 6 to 12 million children between 3 and 12 years of age get head lice each year. That is a lot of lice infestations! So to protect yourself, your family, and your home from lice this year, we have a few preventative tips and also treatment tips to help you through the head lice season. Keep these tips close because you don’t know when you are going to need them!
Avoid head-to-head contact:
Lice cannot fly, hop, or jump so they can only be transferred through direct contact. Tell your kids to avoid games that involve direct head-to-head contact whether at school, in sports activities, or on the playground. Tying back long hair will reduce the risk of spreading lice too.
Don’t share what’s been in your hair:
It may be tempting to share personal belongings, especially for children, but lice can transfer from objects to their heads very easily. Avoid sharing the following items: hair brushes, hats and bike helmets, scarves and coats, hair accessories, and ear buds.
Space it out:
Shared spaces can be breeding grounds for lice. Closets and common clothes hooks create an easy opportunity for lice to spread from one item to another. Ask your child to keep their belongings separate from common areas, such as in an individual cubby or locker.
Take action early:
If a break out of lice is announced by your children’s school, take preventative measures with your family immediately. Look in your child’s hair for small white nits, which are lice eggs. Also, inspect your child’s clothes that they have worn the past few days, including hats, shirts, and coats, looking for lice and eggs. Finally, inspect household items that attract lice, such as couches, bedding, pillows, or towels.
Signs and Symptoms of Head Lice
Most people think that you will know immediately when you or your kids have lice due to the constant itching and scratching. However, it is not always that simple to catch early on. Sometimes, it takes a few weeks after the lice arrive on the scalp for it to actually start itching. That is why it is important to inspect your child early on, even when there are no clear symptoms yet. But most cases of lice contain these evident signs/symptoms:
- Itchy scalp.
- Scratching. The scalp may become irritated due to the scratching.
- Crawling sensation. People often feel something crawling on the hair or scalp.
- Seeing bugs. These look like light-brown sesame seeds crawling on the hair, skin, or clothing.
- Finding lice eggs (nits). The eggs are yellow, brown, or tan and about the size of a pinhead. These seem glued to the hair. If the eggs have hatched, you will see clear shells.
De-Lousing Your House
Immediately after knowing that your child or someone else has lice in the family, ‘de-louse’ your house as soon as possible. The lice that have come off of the scalp of the infested person cannot live long. They live between 1 and 2 days before dying without the food source, so why not get rid of them before they crawl onto anyone else? Here are some recommended procedures to get rid of lice on items around the house:
- Machine Wash/Dry in Hot Water: Items that have been worn or used by the infested person within the past few days should be machine washed and dried using the hot water and hot air cycles. The items include bedding, pillow cases, clothing, and towels. The lice and eggs are killed by exposure to heat within a few minutes to temperatures greater than 128.3 degrees Fahrenheit.
- Seal in Plastic Bags: For items that cannot be laundered, either get them dry-cleaned or put them in a sealed plastic bag for 2 weeks. Soak combs and brushes and other hair accessories in hot water for 5-10 minutes.
- Vacuum: Vacuum the floor and furniture the infested person may have been near within the past few days. This will get rid of lice or eggs that may have fallen off the head and will avoid reinfestation.
Treatment of Lice
Head Lice Shampoos:
There are several effective brands of head lice shampoos. These shampoos kill off the head lice and only require a few applications. But after applying the shampoo, it is always recommended to comb through the hair for several weeks to ensure all of the bugs are out. Details on nit combing are below.
The simplest solutions are often the best, and this technique has withstood the test of time. Using a Nit Comb, that have teeth very close together to get the tiniest nits, brush through the hair for about an hour to an hour and a half every day for several weeks. This ensures all the nits and lice are out. Although it requires a heavy time commitment, it has proven time and time again to be the most effective head lice treatment.
We hope this information is helpful to you as the school year continues. Although head lice is bothersome to treat, requiring a few weeks of nit combing and ‘de-lousing’ the whole house, there is a positive note to all of this: There have been no diseases identified as associated with head lice, making them a bother, but not dangerous. Keep your family and home safe this year from these pests with our preventative and treatment tips.