Understanding and Managing Lice Infestations
Lice, an annoying yet common problem, are tiny wingless insects that habituate human scalps, feeding on blood. Particularly prevalent among children, these pests spread rapidly from one individual to another. While they may cause discomfort and irritation, lice are not dangerous and do not transmit diseases. Despite this, it is crucial to treat lice infestations promptly to prevent further spread.
Identifying the Symptoms of Lice
Lice, although small, are visible to the naked eye. Here are some signs to be aware of when checking for lice:
Lice Eggs (Nits)
Lice eggs, or nits, appear as minuscule yellow, tan, or brown dots before they hatch. Lice tend to lay their eggs on hair shafts close to the scalp, where the temperature is ideal for incubation. Nits may resemble dandruff, but they are not easily removed by brushing or shaking them off.
Adult Lice and Nymphs (Baby Lice)
Adult lice are tiny creatures, no larger than a sesame seed, and exhibit a grayish-white or tan color. Nymphs, the baby lice, are smaller and mature into adult lice about 1-2 weeks after hatching.
Itching and Scratching
Lice bites can lead to itching and scratching. This irritation is due to a reaction to the saliva of lice. However, the itching does not always commence immediately and may take weeks to begin in children with lice.
Small Red Bumps or Sores from Scratching
Some children may experience mild irritation from constant scratching, while others may develop a bothersome rash. Excessive scratching can lead to a bacterial infection, which may present as swollen lymph nodes, red, tender skin, crusting, and oozing.
Checking for Lice in Kids
When checking for lice, focus on the scalp, behind the ears, and around the nape of the neck. It is unusual to find lice in eyelashes or eyebrows.
Using a fine-tooth comb on wet hair is the most effective method for inspecting for lice. After applying plenty of conditioner, comb the hair out in very small sections, and check for lice or nits on the comb.
Treating Lice Infestations
Lice is a common occurrence in school aged children, so luckily there are tried and true methods for removing a lice infestation from your child’s hair. There are two primary approaches to treating lice:
Medicated shampoos, cream rinses, and lotions that kill lice are available over-the-counter (OTC) or by prescription. However, it’s crucial to ensure the chosen product is suitable for the child’s age.
If medication does not completely eradicate the lice, or if you prefer not to use an insecticide, manually removing lice and nits is an option. This involves using a fine-tooth comb on wet, conditioned hair every 3-4 days for 3 weeks after the last live louse was spotted.
What Not to Do When Treating Lice
It’s important to know what not to do when treating lice. Avoid using a hairdryer after applying scalp treatments, as some contain flammable ingredients. Do not use pesticide sprays or hire pest control services. Avoid using essential oils like ylang-ylang oil or tea tree oil for lice treatment. They can cause allergic skin reactions and are not approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Never use highly flammable substances such as gasoline or kerosene.
Understanding the Contagious Nature of Lice
Head lice spread quickly from person to person, especially in group settings like schools, childcare centers, slumber parties, sports activities, and camps. They can’t fly or jump, but their claws allow them to crawl and cling to hair.
School Attendance and Lice
In the past, children with head lice were sent home from school. However, current recommendations suggest children with lice should stay in school until the end of the day, receive treatment at home, and return to school the next day.
Preventing Lice Infestations
To prevent lice infestations, it’s important to wash all bed linens, stuffed animals, and clothing used during the two days before treatment in hot water followed by a hot cycle in the dryer. Vacuum carpets and any upholstered furniture in the home or car. Also, soak hair-care items like combs, barrettes, hair ties or bands, headbands, and brushes in hot water or dispose of them.
Persistent Lice Infestations
Despite the best efforts, lice can be stubborn and hard to eliminate. If your child still has lice after treatment, it could be due to several reasons including leftover nits, continued exposure to someone with lice, or ineffective treatment.
While having lice can be frustrating and embarrassing, it’s important to remember that anyone can get them. Lice infestations are not a sign of poor hygiene. Following the recommended treatments and prevention tips can help ensure your family becomes lice-free.