Oh no… did i just see what i think i saw? Did she just scratch her head? Oh, please, to all that is good and just, tell me it’s just a mosquito bite!
If you’re a mom, especially to a girl with long hair, i’m sure you know the feeling… Finding out that one of your kids has lice is not a joke. Seriously, not – a – joke! If you’ve been hit by a plague of lice, you’ll know that you can’t just get rid of them. It’s not just as easy as just washing your hair with some shampoo. Those little things are tough!
Did you know, those little buggers are so terrible that they even feature in the Bible. Lice are the 3rd of the 10 plagues of Egypt.
Anyway, time to take a look at at the basics…
What are lice?
Head-lice are tiny, parasitic insects that live in human hair and feed on tiny amounts of human blood drawn from the scalp. Lice is very contagious, and often spreads from child to child at school (more info later). Lice do not spread diseases, however, their bites are extremely itchy, and can cause children (or adults) to scratch until the skin is broken, which can lead to infection.
How do lice spread?
If one person has lice, and they’re in close contact with another person, there is a risk of spreading the lice. Your child can get lice
- during personal contact, such as during sports, at a sleepover, during playtime at school etc.
- by sharing brushes, combs or certain types of hair accessories with someone that has lice.
- by wearing infested clothing, such as scarves or hats.
- by sharing pillows or other bedding such as blankets or duvets with a person with lice, or using bedding that a person with lice has recently used.
- from swimming pools – the best way to avoid this is by wearing a swimming cap. (it may not look that pretty, but it does the job 😉 )
- on rare occasion from hotel pillows and linen, if the hotel does not treat their linen properly.
Signs of a lice ‘situation’
1. Head-lice are very small, but they can be seen by the naked eye. The first thing to know is that there are 5 stages to the lice life-cycle. These are
- Nit – the louse (singular of lice) egg
- 1st stage nymph
- 2nd stage nymph
- 3rd stage nymph
- Adult louse
When looking for signs of lice, check for nits, nymphs and adult lice. The picture below will give you an idea of just how tiny these horrible pests are. So, good luck! This is one treasure hunt that i know is NO FUN…
a) Nits are yellowish, light brown almost see-through. They’re attached to the hair shaft, down low, close to the scalp, so that the eggs can stay warm until they hatch. Nits are easy to confuse with dandruff, but you wont be able to remove these little white specks with a comb or by brushing them off with your hand. Generally, you’re more likely to spot the nits before you spot any live louse, unless your child has a very heavy infestation.
b) The adult louse is not very big. At full size, they are about as big as a sesame seed. They range in color from grey to yellowish white and tan. Nymphs are smaller and take about 2 weeks to grow to full size. An adult louse starts laying eggs about 2 1/2 weeks after it has hatched, and those eggs hatch within a week. The whole cycle takes just over 3 weeks, and if left untreated, a small lice ‘situation’ can develop into a full blown infestation!
2. Scratching or complaining about a ticklish head – the actual ‘itchiness’ is a reaction to the lice saliva, but every person has a different level of sensitivity to the saliva. Some children may go weeks without actually scratching. One thing that they may complain about is the feeling of something moving in their hair, or something tickling them.
3. Sores on the scalp – Again, this depends on your child’s sensitivity to the lice saliva. Some children develop horrible rashes. If a child scratches too much it can lead to a bacterial infection which can cause swollen lymph glands and red, tender skin. There may even be some crusting and pus build-up. If your child is showing signs of infection, they need to be taken to a doctor, so that the doctor can decide whether or not to prescribe antibiotics.
How to check for lice
1. Part your child’s hair into small sections. It’s easiest to start at the nape of the neck and move upwards.
2. Comb through the sections carefully with a small, fine-toothed comb. You may notice some resistance as the nits get ‘caught’ on the teeth of the comb.
3. Be extra vigilant around the ears and in the nape of the neck, as this is where the little guys like to hide out.
4. Use a torch for extra light if necessary, or work in a well-lit room. A magnifying glass is also a good tool to have at hand.
5. Have a piece a white paper handy, so that you can deposit anything that you find on the paper. This will make it easier for you to determine exactly what it is that you’ve found. If you do happen to pull out a live louse, tip it into a glass of water straight away, or else it may just end up on someone else.
So, my child has lice… What now?
Unfortunately, if one person in the family has an active lice infection, it’s very unlikely that they’re the only one. The best thing to do is treat all the kids in the family (except babies – if you suspect that your baby has a lice ‘situation’ or infestation, it’s best to see your pediatrician.), as well as yourself. Men and woman with short hair generally tend to fair better, and are less likely to be affected, but it may be a case of ‘rather safe than sorry…’
There are a few different options for treatment, depending on your child’s age, and whether or not you prefer to use natural remedies or the hard-core chemical stuff.
- Over-the-counter shampoo, cream-rinse or lotion – Follow the instruction on the packaging. Generally, the kit will include a fine tooth comb, for use after the product (which is left on the hair for anywhere from 15 minutes to 1 hour), so that you can remove the dead lice and nits. After using the product, the nits should be a lot easier to remove. It is recommended to comb through your child’s hair after shampooing for the next two or three days to ensure that all the little nits and any dead lice are removed. If the infestation was a bad one, it is also a good idea to repeat the whole process (shampoo, cream-rinse or lotion, and then combing) again 7 to 10 days later, so that any nits that may have survived and hatched, can be taken care of.
- Prescription medication from your doctor – Follow the doctor’s instructions. Be careful not to get any of the treatment in your child’s eyes.
- Natural remedies – Natural remedies tend to go for the ‘smother’ or ‘suffocate’ approach, and one popular way to do this is with oils. There is a school of thought that says that the oils just ‘stun’ the lice, making them easier to catch on the comb when you use the fine-tooth comb. Either way, there are millions of moms that swear by this technique.Healthline.com suggests splitting your child’s hair into sections and then coating each section with either olive or almond oil and then combing it through with the fine-tooth. They also say that some people may find it easier to apply the oil to the comb and brush that through the sections, adding more oil to the comb as needed. You can decide what works best for you. After you have done your child’s whole head, you need to wash out their hair with their regular shampoo. This process needs to be repeated every night for a week, and then you need to brush their hair out with the fine tooth comb every night for an additional week. (Wow! Lots of work!)
- By hand – if your child is younger than 2 months old, the removal of the lice has to be done by hand. Wash your child’s hair as normal, and then brush through with a fine tooth comb every two to three days for at least two week, preferably three, until you are sure that all the lice and nits are gone.
- You will also need to remove all the bedding from all the beds in the house, as well as all the towels, and wash then on a very hot cycle. If possible, dry the linen and towels in the hot cycle of the dryer for at least 20 minutes, otherwise, dry them outside in direct sunlight.
- If your child has a favorite stuffed toy or teddy bear that they like to cuddle with, i’m sorry, but your going to have to figure out a way to sneak the little guy away and get him into the washing machine too. The hottest cycle possible, without destroying your child’s beloved friend. (I know teddies can be temperamental – my sister had one who’s eyes ‘melted’ when we were kids… scary…)
- Vacuum the whole house, and if you have carpets, you may want to consider steam-cleaning them, depending on the severity of the lice outbreak and how many people were affected.
Is there any way to avoid getting lice again?
Preventing another case of lice is not 100% guaranteed with any method, because it is such a common problem. There are things that we can do, and advice we can give our children, that make chances of re-infestation less likely. These include…
- telling your children not to share hairbrushes and combs with anyone.
- telling your children not to borrow or lend scarves, hats or jackets to anyone.
- making sure that your child uses a swimming cap in swimming pools where others swim, eg. public pools.
- making sure that your child doesn’t share bedding, eg.taking their own pillow and ‘blankie’ to slumber parties, etc.
- making use of a lice ‘prevention spray’ – certain brands have a 3rd step available, which is the prevention spray. This is for more frequent use (once or twice a week, or after every wash) and contain ingredients (usually natural) that keep the ‘nasties’ away.
- be vigilant when traveling – if you suspect that your linen hasn’t been changed, request another room, or ask housekeeping to do a quick change.
- Develop a weekly head-check routine – this should ideally be on the same day, and at the same time every week so that you don’t forget. This way, if somebody does happen to come into contact with lice again, you can catch it and treat it before it becomes a gigantic problem!
If after following all of the recommendations, and completing your chosen course of treatment (with the follow up treatment 10 days later), your child is still showing signs of lice, it may be time to take them to a doctor for a second opinion. Remember, even though lice is not a nice topic, and can be very embarrassing for both the child and the parents concerned, it really is something that anybody can get. Don’t worry, you’re not the first mom that’s going to be doing that walk of shame up to the counter to ask for the dreaded *whisper* “lice treatment”….
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