Head lice outbreaks are common in schools and day cares, where children often play head-to-head, transmitting the bugs. Lice don’t jump or fly, and they can only live a few hours off of a head, but they can be difficult to get rid of. If your child comes home with head lice, don’t freak out. It’s not because she’s dirty or uncared for.
Lice are tiny, and they’re easy to miss. You may see small bugs in the hair, or you may see the eggs — called nits — stuck to the hair shaft. Search your child’s scalp first, as the eggs will be close to the scalp. They will be somewhat clear. Eggs that have hatched will be further down the hair and may be white in color. You may be able to find them just by looking, or you may need to use a comb and look at the comb for evidence. If it’s your first time and you’re not sure whether you’re seeing lice or dandruff, you can check with the school nurse.
Chemical vs. Natural Remedies
You can purchase a chemical-based insecticide lotion over-the-counter. This will kill the live lice, but you have to comb out the nits to prevent further infection. Over-the-counter natural remedies made specifically for head lice can work as well. There is no scientific evidence to support treatment using common items in the home, like mayonnaise or petroleum jelly. If your child has a sensitive scalp, you can treat head lice naturally simply by combing through the hair with a fine tooth comb — use one designed for removing lice.
Doing It Right
A lice comb is very fine toothed. The spaces should be no more than 0.3mm wide so that it can catch the nits and bugs. Section wet hair off and go through each area carefully. If you miss a spot, your child may become reinfected. If you’re using a special chemical or natural treatment to kill the lice, you must apply it more than once. The first time, it will kill live bugs, but not the ones in the eggs. The second application kills the bugs that hatched.
Cleaning the House
Lice only live a few hours off of the head, so you don’t need to do a deep cleaning of your home. Wash bed sheets and other items that may have touched your child’s head in hot water to kill any lice that may be present. You can kill lice on stuffed toys by placing the toy in a plastic bag for two weeks.
It’s a lot easier to treat a few lice in your child’s hair than it is to treat a full-blown infestation. Monitor your child regularly for lice — at least once a week — so that you can catch and treat potential problems as soon as they occur.