I Think My Child Has Lice

Sept. 25, 2013

Has lice invaded your kid's head and hair? Here's how to treat it.

When everyone in Ann Week's Belguim-based household started itching last year, she realized something was up. And when lice showed up on both her and her two children, she was at a loss of what to do next.

While not life threatening or even injuring, lice sparks widespread panic among parents. Having nothing to do with hygiene, lice are common in schools because kids are in such close proximity and tend to share items. In fact, Weeks' family battled lice twice in one year.

We asked York, Penn.-based family physician Wanda Filer MD, and Deborah Altschuler of the National Pediculosis Association, a nonprofit that seeks to educate people about head lice, for advice on what to do when a child has lice.

  1. Assess the Situation
    Lice are icky, but they aren't going to spread malaria. "It doesn't mean you are dirty or have done anything wrong," says Filer. "It is just part of having kids." If a child in your son's class has lice, make sure you talk about not sharing hats, coats, scarves or brushes. Limited exposure helps prevents the spread of lice. If your child has long hair, put it in a ponytail.

  2. Check and Check Again
    "Regular screening is critical," says Altschuler. It's a good idea to check every family member's hair every few days year round. Use a lice comb as a screening tool, she says, and don't make a big deal out of it. Inspect your child's head carefully, paying special attention to the root areas. Look for tiny white eggs, as lice move so quickly you're unlikely to see the live bugs.

    If you see a speck of something in the hair, but you're not sure if it's lice, try to pick it off the hair shaft. Lice won't just come off easily, so if you can brush it or blow it off the hair shaft, it is likely not lice (it could be dandruff).

  3. Stay Calm
    Kids worry about lice, too, so try to stay calm. Tell them it's something you'll have to take care of. And while it might take some time to get rid of, it isn't their fault and it isn't because they're dirty in any way. Let them know you're going to find the best way to treat it.

  4. Treat it
    You can either treat lice with chemicals or with a natural method, but the only way to really get everything is to comb it all out, says Altschuler. Chemicals kits often contain pesticides like permethrin, and you should use it once to kill the live bugs, says Filer. Then comb with a lice comb twice a day for several weeks to remove the nits and any dead bugs.

    Other methods include Ulesfia, a benzyl alcohol gel that suffocates head lice. Becker's family found success with letting olive oil sit on the hair for hours, but many experts think it's the repeated combing that really gets rid of the lice. The olive oil just makes the combing process easier.

    And look at your child's scalp, says Filer. If it's irritated from scratching, ask your doctor about an allergy medication to make them more comfortable.

  5. Comb, Comb, Comb
    No matter what treatment method you use, combing is crucial to removing everything. Special combs that have closely-spaced tines, like the LiceMeister comb from the National Pediculosis Association, allow you to get all the nits and eggs. This process can be time-consuming, so there are even professional lice removers you can hire to handle this task for you -- ask the school nurse for recommendations.

  6. Clean Up
    Contrary to popular belief, you don't have to fumigate your house to get rid of lice. Lice don't jump around, so you just need to wash bedding, clothes and stuffed animals that stay on the bed in hot water and a hot dryer. Thoroughly vacuum the couch and rugs, but don't wear yourself out.

  7. Prevent it in the Future
    Everyone in the house should have their own brush and own hats. This can prevent a lot of potential problems in the future. Be cautious -- avoid trying on hats in a costume area at the kids' museum and do proactive checks.

Julia Quinn-Szcesuil is an award-winning freelance writer and a mom to two girls. She lives in Massachusetts and has written for local and national publications.

* This article is for general informational purposes only. It is not intended nor implied to be providing medical advice and is not a substitute for such advice. The reader should always consult a health care provider concerning any medical condition or treatment plan.? Neither Care.com nor the author assumes any responsibility or liability with respect to use of any information contained herein.

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