L is for Lice, Which Are Not Nice

Get rid of these common pests

Have you received the dreaded notice from your school yet, kids being sent home because of head lice? Or perhaps you’ve noticed your youngest constantly itching her head. When you peer into that thatch of hair, you discover tiny bugs the size of a sesame seed. You begin to freak, “How could this happen to my child? Our house isn’t dirty!”                       

Relax. Lice happen to the best of us. The good news is they don’t spread disease like mosquitos or ticks and aren’t associated with poor hygiene. But they can take time to banish. Here’s the skinny on lice treatment from Le Bonheur pediatrician, Dr. Rana Khaznadar.


How do I know it is lice?

• Itchy scalp and inflammation

• Small red bumps or sores on the head (from scratching)


What do lice look like?

Nits (lice eggs) are tiny yellow, tan, or brown dots before the insect hatches. It may resemble dandruff but it won’t move when you try to brush it off. The eggs take one to two weeks to hatch. Once hatched, the louse lives at the base of the scalp where it feeds on small amounts of blood. The adult louse is about the size of a sesame seed. The nits and nymphs are smaller.


How do lice get passed along?

• The sharing of hairbrushes, hats, or scarves

• Close contact between kids

• Children who share a bed or other personal items


What are common myths about lice treatment?

• Coating the hair with olive oil, butter, or petroleum jelly is a good idea because it suffocates the lice. FALSE. It won’t kill lice, but will make your child’s hair a mess.

Shaving a child’s head is a good solution for getting rid of lice. FALSE. This is completely unnecessary. It will, however, ensure your child vividly remembers the event.

Lice develop because of filthy conditions at home or school. FALSE. Lice are present on people because we are the host for these hungry critters.


What are the most effective means of treating lice?

Khaznadar recommends wetting the hair and combing it out with a nit or fine-tooth comb. Use a magnifying glass and bright light. Then, apply a non-prescription medicated cream such as Permethrin crème rinse after the hair is washed and towel dried. Allow to saturate scalp for 10 minutes before rinsing. Do not wash the child’s hair for two days. The rinse kills lice and nits for up to two weeks. However, a second application seven to 10 days later may be necessary.

Be sure to follow the directions on these products exactly, as they are pesticides. Applying too much or using too frequently can increase the risk of harm. Do not use the same medication more than three times on one person. If it doesn’t seem to be working, contact your pediatrician.

Do not use these products on children 2 and under. Instead, remove nits by hand. Once an outbreak has occurred, be sure to check all family members for lice. Animals are not affected, since lice live on human heads only.


How can you prevent a reinfestation?

• Wash bed linens, stuffed toys, clothing, and any other personal items in hot water, followed by a hot dryer.

• Vacuum carpets and upholstered furniture.

• Soak hair-care items like combs, barrettes, hair ties or bands, headbands, and brushes in rubbing alcohol or medicated shampoo for one hour. Or toss after use.


For more, go to kidshealth.org or cdc.gov/parasites/lice/head/treatment.html


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