Oh joy, your child has brought another note home from school. What in the world is it this time? Another fund raiser, a failed test, a plea for more of your valuable time or money? Imagine your surprise to discover that your child has acquired a nasty infestation of head lice! As the mother of four children who on more than one occasion have brought head lice home from their child care center or school, I offer you my deepest sympathies.
If you are anything like me your first reaction to your child’s head lice is disgust, quickly followed by a sense of embarrassment, due to the myth that only “dirty” people become infested with lice. The truth is every year between six and twelve million people in the United States, primarily children between the ages of three and twelve years old become infested with head lice.
What Are Head Lice?
Lice are bloodsucking little critters that live on humans. In the majority of cases they infest only the head, preferring to feed behind the ears and the nape of the neck.
Head lice are gray and they can turn reddish-brown in color after feeding. They are about the size of a sesame seed. Although lice cannot fly, they can move extremely fast making it relatively easy to move from head to head.
Nits are eggs from the adult lice and are usually white or gray in color, and firmly attached to the hair shaft. The eggs hatch in six to ten days and it usually takes another two to three weeks for the lice to mature.
It is important to understand that having nits does not mean that your child or family member will have a lice infestation. A nit casing can stay on the hair for weeks, making it difficult to tell the difference between a nit with a live louse inside, and an empty one. Nits are more likely to contain a live embryo if they are close to the scalp.
How Did My Child Become Infected?
Every year numerous schools and child care centers face the problem of head lice. These facilities bring a large number of children together in close contact on a daily basis. Hats and jackets are often hung together in the same cubbies or closet, allowing transfer of lice from one child to another. Head lice can also be transferred by sharing combs, brushes, hair ribbons, hats, or by using towels, pillows, or bedding recently used by an infested person. Lice seem to prefer children to adults, long hair over short, they love clean hair and prefer it over dirty hair, and they are extremely attracted to the hair of females. Lucky us!
What Are The Symptoms Of Head Lice?
1)Itching or the sensation of something crawling on the head or neck.
2)Red bite marks or sores(mainly from scratching) on the scalp. These are mainly found behind the ears or back of the neck.
3)Lice or nits stuck to the hair, mainly found very close to the scalp.
4)Irritability in older children or adults, and fussiness in younger children.
5)Swollen glands of the neck or head.
6)If the infestation is left untreated the hair may become matted and take on a foul odor.
What Treatment Options Are Available
Actual removal is the first step in controlling head lice. You can use nit combs or even cat flea combs to remove adult lice and their eggs. Because eggs can hatch seven to ten days after they are laid, you should plan on combing your child’s hair with a nit comb daily for two weeks after you find the last live lice to remove any young that have hatched.
All bedding and clothing should be washed at a high temperature and stuffed animals should be placed in plastic bags and tightly sealed for several weeks.
An alternative treatment that is growing in popularity is to suffocate the head lice by coating the hair over night with vegetable, olive or baby oil,mayonnaise, or hair gel. A real drawback to this method is that removing these products from the hair can be difficult to say the least.
Are Over The Counter Products Effective?
Today there are numerous products on the market to control the infestation of head lice. Products containing Pernethrin are common in the lotions and shampoos that can be bought over-the-counter in drugstores and large retail chains.
If you choose to invest in one of these products follow the directions carefully, especially how much of the product to use, and whether the hair should be wet prior to application.
Always keep in mind that these products contain insecticides and should be used with caution. The majority of products recommend reapplying the product seven to ten days after the first application to kill the newly hatched eggs.
What If Treatment Fails?
While there is evidence that head lice are becoming more and more resistant to the effects of over-the-counter treatments, the most common reason for products to not work is failure to remove all the nits, or your child is being exposed to someone with head lice.
You should place a call to your family physician if your child’s lice infestation has not been cured in two weeks, or if their scalp has a rash that appears to be infected.
Although it can be a challenge to eliminate head lice, you should be patient and vigilant when dealing with an infestation, Use caution regardless of the treatment method you choose and always keep your child’s safety and health your number one priority.