Head lice

The dreaded call– your child has head lice

What to do besides panic, when your school nurse calls home and tells you that your child has head lice? Now don’t go burning down the house just yet. You can do this, lice can be beat. 

Lice is no joke. Having creepy crawlies in your child’s and likely your head is serious business. So serious that people are opening lice clinics ALL over the place. They are charging $100-200 per head to get rid of head lice. The service is not guaranteed and often times the head lice come back. Now that you are itchy and there are lice bugs crawling all over you (not really but feels like it, Ya?), let’s talk about how we can help! Save your family the $800 and try to tackle this at home. The job will take grit and persistence. YOU can do this!

Checking for head lice in kids

Dr. Patricia Brown, a Dermatologist at the FDA explains how you can best check for head lice. Take a deep breath and whooossaaahhh. You can do this.

  1. Part the hair in several spots
  2. Use a magnifying glass and a bright light to help find the lice (fun fact– lice is the plural of louse. One louse, many lice.). The light might scare the lice, but mostly will help you to see things better. 
  3. Lice like warm areas, so check behind the ears and at the nape of the neck.
  4. Head lice can move fast (Eww) and it may be easier to spot the eggs. Lice eggs are otherwise known as nits. Nits don’t move and they usually are stuck to the hair shaft, almost like little white tiny grains of rice.
  5. Nits can look like dandruff, but you can identify them by picking up a strand of hair close to the scalp and pulling your fingernail across the area where you suspect one is hiding. Dandruff will come off easily, but nits will stay firmly attached to the hair. 

Lice treatment

There are many over the counter lice treatments on the market to help with lice problems. The medication will only kill the actual bug (louse) and not the (nit) egg. There is no medication that will completely penetrate and kill the lice eggs. It is important to read the directions on the box if you are using a lice treatment at home. It is especially important to read the age limits for the treatment, as some home treatments are not meant for children or babies. 

If you have called your provider and received a prescription, make sure to follow the instructions for use as well. The CDC outlines many of these lice treatments which can help you to determine which is best for you. 

The MOST important thing about treating lice after killing all the live bugs is to prevent the lice eggs from hatching. Live lice on your head feed on your body and then lay eggs on your hair follicle. Once these eggs hatch, you are back to square one and the life cycle starts all over.

A full grown bug will lay the eggs after about 1 week. These eggs take about another 1 week to hatch. The cycle continues until you stop these eggs from hatching on your head! You must get those eggs OUT OF THERE.

GET RID OF THE EGGS– How to use a lice comb

Lice eggs (nits) will be stuck to the hair shaft. You will need to comb the hair with a lice comb or pick them off. 

The nits need to be picked off to resolve the lice problem. Ever heard of the term Nit picking? Now you know where it comes from! Nit picking is tedious and awful work. But if you miss ONE egg, and it hatches, you may as well start crying now. The lice will be back. You must be nit picky! 

Every nit counts. Every last strand of hair must be combed. This must happen EVERY DAY for TWO WEEKS. No joke. You must do this daily. The best way to comb the nits is by lightly wetting the hair and parting it. Separate with a clip and use the lice comb to check every strand. After each swipe, wipe the comb on a paper towel. A nit will appear as a white/grey/yellowish teeny tiny grain of rice. And a bug, well…a bug looks like a bug. But they are TINY and may be dead or alive. Be prepared. 

Clean your house to help control the spread of head lice

Take a vacuum to your couches, change your sheets and take all the stuffed animals out of your kiddo’s rooms. Do a quick clean. The honest truth here is that people freak out about their homes and spend lots of time cleaning, and not enough time picking. I’m going to be nit picky here (see what I did?)— pick the nits, don’t waste all your time freaking out about your house. The lice like your nice warm head and can only live while hosting on your scalp. It is unlikely that your lice buddies will jump off your head and set up shop in your couch cushions. I mean they may fall off there but they won’t live long and they really just want a cozy scalp to live on. 

If you have questions about head lice, always feel free to chat with one of our nurses. We’re here to help!

Preventing head lice 

Sharing isn’t always caring! Don’t share brushes, headbands, hats or clothing. This will prevent you from catching head lice from infected friends. Be sure to remind your kiddos that they shouldn’t share headwear at school. Keep hats to themselves! Avoid sleepovers with infected friends. Laying on a couch or pillow that an infected person has been lounging on can get head lice on your head too. One little friend may fall off and cozy up to your head. 

Make it a habit to do a quick comb once a month or so during the school year, and more often when that dreaded letter comes home that someone in your child’s class has head lice. Head lice do not discriminate, anyone can get it! Now stop scratching your head and order that lice comb 🙂  And always feel free to reach out to our nurses with questions.

–Kim Liner, RN, MSN, CPNP

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