Even though kids worry about catching “cooties,” they never seem to think twice about sharing hairbrushes, barrettes or hats with other children. As a result, it’s not uncommon for a child to come home with a case of head lice.
Despite common myths, hygiene and cleanliness are not related to head lice. These feisty little parasites will cling to anyone’s hair if they have a chance. Sharing hair accessories – or even leaning your head against a lice-infested pillow – can be all that’s necessary for head lice to start nesting in your child’s hair.
When kids are in school – and spending much of their days with their peers – head lice becomes a more common occurrence. If your child exhibits any of these signs and symptoms, you may want to check for head lice:
Scratching: Lice bite their host, which means your child will get bitten if she/he has head lice. Like other types of insect bites, these small bumps will itch. Take notice if your child starts frequently scratching his/her head.
Nits: Nits are the eggs of head lice, and they resemble small dots. Before they hatch they are often brown or tan in color, making them difficult to see on the hair shaft. After the eggs hatch, however, the egg becomes a white or clear dot. These eggs stick to the hair and cannot be shaken out or easily swept away with the hand.
Lice: Actual adult lice are about the size of a sesame seed. They look like little bugs that are tan or gray in color.
Your child probably has lice if he/she has been scratching, you see little sticky white dots on the hair shaft, and you see a teeny tiny bug. The school nurse will be able to properly identity an infestation.
So what should you do if your child has head lice?
Over-the-counter shampoos are extremely effective at treating head lice. Follow the instructions on the package carefully. (Two packages may be required if your child has exceptionally long hair.) You will most likely have to shampoo the hair, leave the shampoo in the hair for a certain period of time, and then rinse it out. Afterwards, you will need to comb through the hair with a very fine tooth comb, generally provided with the shampoo. The small comb will help remove the lice and nits from the hair.
You will probably have to continue combing the hair – and possibly re-shampoo – during the next week or fourteen days. Bedding, stuffed animals, furniture and rugs should all be vacuumed or washed.
To prevent head lice, caution your child to avoid sharing items that touch her/his head, such as hairbrushes, hair ribbons, combs or hats.