Head Lice

What to do if your child is infected with head lice

It's a nightmare to a parent when their child comes home with head lice. Treating the problem is timely and frustrating - mostly because once it is gone it can come back time and again.

Head lice are parasitic insects that spread readily from one human to another through direct skin contact. Children, particularly those in elementary school who play in close contact with each other, are easily susceptible to lice.

How to Find Head Lice

The most common symptom associated with head lice is an itchy scalp. If you notice your child frequently scratching his or her head, check for lice.

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At times, children can become infected and not complain of itching. It's common practice for schools to warn parents of a lice outbreak. If the school notifies you of an outbreak, check your child often, even if you don't see any noticeable symptoms.

Begin by inspecting the scalp, nape of the neck and areas behind the ears. Look for small white or yellowish-brown specks attached to the hair - these are called nits or eggs. Dandruff can sometimes be confused with lice, but dandruff is easily removed by flicking, while lice and their eggs are not so easily dislodged.

Treatment

This is a two step process. First, adult lice must be killed. A specially formulated shampoo or lotion called a pediculicide is recommended. These shampoos can be purchased over-the-counter and are specifically labeled for use on people. Nix® and Rid® are two examples of over the counter treatments.

Consult your pharmacist or pediatrician before using any of these products since they may not be recommended for small children, children with certain illnesses and conditions or pregnant women.

Generally, the shampoo is applied at the time the head lice are discovered and then again in a week to 10 days. Two applications are needed so that any remaining eggs that may have hatched are killed in a second treatment.

Next, nits must be manually combed out. Lice hatch from tiny eggs that can be found on the hair shaft, usually close to the scalp. Since nits are firmly attached with a sticky, waterproof substance, they cannot be washed away or destroyed by blow drying the hair. Specialty nit combs can be more effective than a regular comb because they have very fine teeth to catch the nits. The removal process can be tedious and very time-consuming.

Tips for more effective removal are as follows:

Sterilizing the home: