Head lice is a common concern for most people with children, particularly school-aged children. Given that lice most commonly spread when there is head-to-head contact, little ones are largely at risk. There is a common misconception that head lice are the result of poor hygiene, but this is rarely the case. In fact, head lice can attach to any type or length of hair, unwashed or clean.
There are several treatment options available once head lice have been discovered. It is recommended that caregivers inspect hair close to the scalp using a fine-tooth comb that can be purchased at most pharmacies. If there is evidence of lice, they will most likely see small nits or hatched eggs that are about the size of the head of a pin. The lice themselves are about the size of a sesame seed. Below are some proven methods to help tackle the head lice and measures you can take to reduce the likelihood that they will return.
1. Set a plan of action in action.
Try not to panic if your child has lice. It is more about getting things under control than dwelling on the fact that they have been spotted. Children will look for reassurance that there is nothing ‘wrong’ with them and it may be helpful with older children to have them involved in the process so that they feel like they have some control.
Since head lice cannot survive very long without a food source, you do not need to invest a lot of time in deep cleaning the house.
If you have discovered evidence of lice, you can wash the clothes the person has been wearing in the hot cycle of the washing machine. You may also want to wash their bedding and vacuum any carpets in the house. Alternatively, you can seal clothing/bedding in a plastic bag for two weeks; this will ensure that the lice will not spread.
2. Inform everyone that needs to know.
If it does happen that you have tiny uninvited visitors, make sure you check with your child’s school, daycare or childcare provider to know what their policies are. It is important to disclose head lice to these parties so that they can follow their procedures to ensure it doesn’t continue to spread and be passed back to you.
Even if it is an uncomfortable conversation to have, it is better than having to deal with the whole process over again.
3. Treat lice with non-chemical options.
The next step is to treat that lice. The first treatment options should involve the following more natural methods, since the chemicals that are often used to kill lice can also be harmful or damaging to the hair and scalp. The following, gentler methods should be tried first.
4. Use wet-combing to get the job done.
A practice using the fine-toothed comb (described above) when the hair is wet and divided into sections is a classic way to get rid of lice.
Visually inspect each section running the comb through the hair from scalp to tip. At the end of each pass, look at the comb and discard anything that you find. This is one of the quickest and easiest ways to get the job done.
5. Use essential oils in combination with a comb.
Oils such as Tea Tree and Lavender have antiseptic properties that can be helpful when treating head lice. These can be purchased at health food stores or in some pharmacies. It is important to read labels thoroughly to ensure that you are using the products correctly.
These oils can be added to a fragrance-free conditioner or simple olive oil and applied to the hair. Leave these oils in overnight while covering the head with a towel or shower cap. In the morning, comb the hair using the fine-toothed comb and rinse hair.
Some herbal shampoos have essential oils in them as well. These shampoos can be purchased at health food stores or recommended by pharmacists. They are similar to the essential oil treatments but come in a ready-made solution. Follow the directions on the label for best results!
Heat: It sounds strange, but washing hair with hot water (careful that it’s not too hot to scald). This method might be appropriate for older kids/adults who are able to gauge for themselves when a temperature is comfortably hot. In addition, you can blow dry hair after washing, the heat can help to kill the lice. Also, heat is helpful in disinfecting your combs between inspections.
6. Treating lice with chemicals.
If you have a stubborn case of lice and the non-chemical methods are not working for you, you may need to consider the option of using chemicals designed to kill the lice and remove the eggs. It is important to note that these treatments should be followed on the advice of a doctor or pharmacist.
These medicated mixtures are either water or alcohol-based and need to be applied according to the instructions as they follow the life cycle of the head lice themselves. Some of these medicines will treat the live head lice but will not eliminate the eggs; others will work in different ways to kill the eggs as well. The timing of the application is what makes these treatments effective.
7. Keep up on preventative treatment.
It is important to inspect hair regularly in order to identify an infestation early on. Using conditioner on your hair regularly is helpful because it makes it harder for eggs to be attached. It is far easier to treat head lice if it is spotted early. Make it part of your daily routine. Even if it’s during downtime, watching TV or story time, take a moment to look at your child’s scalp for any evidence of lice.
It is somewhat easier to visually inspect lighter hair as you can see the lice more clearly. However, with dark hair, it the hatched eggs can sometimes be easier to spot. Either way, you can make it fun. My son enjoys a back rub and a head scratch before bed. Little does he know that I am always on the lookout for these little beasties!
8. Educate your children.
It is also helpful to teach children not to share things like hats, combs, or other items that may come in contact with your head as this can lead to spreading the lice. In the same way that we encourage them not to share drinks, this should be part of our daily reminders to play safe and stay healthy. On a final note, it is hard not to have a negative view of head lice as traditionally we have associated them with unhygienic conditions. This is simply not the case!
Anyone and everyone can get head lice. It is important to stay positive and work through it. This too shall pass, as the saying goes. Lice is very common, and almost everyone needs to get rid of it at some point in their lives. Don’t be disheartened! Follow these steps and lice will be a thing of the past in your household.