Whether your concerns were spurred by the dreaded letter from school administrators regarding a reported case of head lice or you’ve noticed that your child seems to be scratching her head excessively, the idea that she could be sporting a few parasitic insects on her head is never a pleasant one. Once the possibility has been brought to your attention, figuring out how to respond properly can be a bit confusing. This especially holds true if you’ve never been confronted with the prospect of treating for lice. Before you go into a full-scale panic, take a moment to consider these tips and bits of advice.
Set Up for Inspections
The moment you suspect a possible infestation of head lice, the best and most effective course of action is to immediately check for signs that could indicate their presence. Lice are roughly the size of sesame seeds, with eggs that are much smaller and often resemble dandruff. First, start with a basic visual inspection. Check not only for the insects and eggs themselves, but also sores caused by scratching and signs of scalp irritation. A study conducted in 2009 and published in the Archives of Dermatology showed that visual inspections were able to accurately diagnose head lice about 29% of the time. That means if you find lice during a visual inspection, you should proceed with treatment. If not, it’s time to move on to wet combing.
In order to wet comb your child’s hair in search of lice, you’ll need a metal lice comb and a bottle of hair conditioner. Wet her hair, then apply conditioner liberally to make combing easier. Separate hair into sections, then comb each from the root to the tips with a lice comb. If there are lice present, you should be able to find them on the comb. In fact, the Archives of Dermatology study indicated up to a 90% success rate for diagnoses obtained through wet combing.
Treatment for Confirmed Cases of Lice
There are a variety of products on the market available to treat lice infestations in both hair and bed linens, jackets or clothing. If you’ve determined that your child does have lice, the next step should be to check the scalps of everyone else within the household. While pediculicides, or medicated shampoos designed to kill lice, are considered safe when they’re used as directed, you may want to call the family doctor for more personal advice. If you choose to go the over-the-counter treatment route, be sure that you’re following the instructions to the letter and that everyone in your house is treated accordingly. Ten days after the first treatment, it’s suggested to administer a second round of treatment just to ensure that all nits and lice are gone. If there are still signs of infestation present after the second round, you will need to seek medical advice for stronger and more effective treatment.
Handling a False Alarm
Sometimes the alarm raised by rumors of lice infestations are false, but they can still provide a great opportunity for talking to kids about hygienic sharing. You may also want to switch your child’s shampoo to one that’s designed to prevent infestation, many brands of which are commercially available. These shampoos and hair products don’t contain the same strong chemicals as treatment for an active infestation, and are safe for everyday use.
Head lice are only transmitted through head-to-head contact or sharing of grooming items like brushes and combs. When you’ve successfully treated an infestation or are starting preventative treatments, you should still make sure that your children understand the dangers of sharing pillows, jackets and brushes with their classmates.
Taking Care of Fabrics
While lice can only survive about one day without a meal from their hosts, you’ll still need to treat the bed linens, clothing and any favorite plush toys that could be harboring lice eager to re-infest your child after treatment. Washing these items in hot water and drying them on the highest heat setting is a surefire way to rid any remaining lice, but 20 minutes in a hot dryer can do the trick for things that shouldn’t be washed in the washing machine.
After you’ve treated your family and the linens in your home, it’s common to feel a bit of embarrassment or shame over having a lice infestation. However, head lice are quite common in any setting where children spend time together, like daycare or school, and are sometimes an unavoidable part of growing up.