Don’t Worry If Your Child Develops Head Lice

If you hear that your child (or one of their friends) has lice, your first reaction may be a mixture of disgust, panic, and a desire to sanitize everything in your home. That would be overkill. Head lice are not a health hazard, and even drug-resistant ” super lice ” can be eradicated with the right treatment.

Head lice are not dangerous

Head lice are small insects that live in the hair and feed on the blood of the scalp. Absolutely obvious. They are perfectly adapted to life on our head: their legs cling to strands of hair. When they lay eggs, they stick them to individual hairs near the scalp.

But that’s all they do. They do not transmit disease or cause serious health problems. Their distant cousins, body lice , do, but these are clothing inhabited bugs, which are only a problem if you go without changing your clothes for several weeks. On the other hand, having lice does not mean you live in mud. Head lice can survive shampooing, so they can get on any head, no matter how clean.

Head lice need to bite your scalp with every meal (again, wow), and after a few weeks, you may become sensitive to their saliva and start to itch. Children are often not diagnosed with lice until a parent or teacher sees them scratching the back of their heads. I asked pediatrician Cynthia D. Devore, who wrote the American Academy of Pediatrics Handbook on Head Lice, what is the worst-case scenario for a child with head lice. She said it was possible that with enough brushing, the baby could break the skin, which could lead to infection. However, the same can be said for any scratches or cuts. She asked me to “emphasize that lice are a nuisance, not a life-threatening condition.”

Earlier this year, “super lice,” which are difficult to kill, began to appear in the news. An article in the Journal of Medical Entomology reports that the gene that makes insects resistant to certain insecticides is more prevalent than we previously thought. But that’s just a figure for a problem that doctors and entomologists already knew about: some insects are resistant to certain insecticides.

Lice Don’t Spread It’s Easy

You don’t need to worry about pets, stuffed toys, or furniture. Lice live on people’s heads – that’s all. They die in a day or two without food, so you don’t have to worry about the hat you last put on a week ago or a stray louse that falls on your carpet.

In fact, hats or pillowcases don’t get lice at all. Transmission in this manneris possible, but rare . Instead, lice go from head to head directly. If two kids are addicted to the same book or iPad game and are staring at it with their heads touching, then lice can spread.

In fact, most cases of heading back to school lice probably do not come from school at all, as children usually do not rub their heads during class. Dr. Devore notes that unless you catch head lice before your baby scratches his head, you will likely only find cases that are a few weeks old. This means that if they start to itch in September, they are more likely to catch lice at summer camp.

If you want to spot lice when they first appear, you will need to check your baby’s head frequently. Lice can be difficult to see, so it’s not an easy job. While Dr. Devore recommends this, I don’t think I am spending time regularly checking my children’s hair.

It’s probably wise to avoid sharing hats and other items that come in contact with hair, but you don’t need to be paranoid about it. For example, if a sports team shares helmets, it is better to wear a helmet than to put yourself at risk of head injuries due to fear of head lice. Dr. Devore says that wiping down your hat or helmet with a wet paper towel is usually enough to remove stray lice. You can also leave your hat in a plastic bag for 72 hours. She does not recommend using insecticidal sprays because there is little or no benefit to outweigh the risk of children being exposed to chemicals from the spray .

Getting rid of lice is annoying, but possible

Between 6 and 12 million children develop head lice every year. Adults can get them too. You’ve probably heard of a few incidents at your school (some schools notify parents) or you may have heard the buzz about “super lice” in your state. If you do get lice – on your baby’s head or even yours – don’t give up hope.

First, if a teacher or school nurse finds lice, they should n’t take your child out of school for the day. Schools have different policies, but the American Academy of Pediatrics is adamant that children “should not be restricted from going to school because of head lice because head lice are not contagious in classrooms.” The National School Nursing Association agrees . Dr. Devore says that a child with lice should stay in the classroom and his parents can treat him for lice tonight. The school nurse should then check the child’s head for lice daily for two weeks. Some schools require children to stay at home until treatment is over and the eggs are gone. Dr. Devore says that if your child will miss a lot of classes in school, and you want to deal with politics, think about how to contact the Office for Civil Rights of the Ministry of Education of the United States , because it must not violate their right to education.

The best remedy for head lice is to use an insecticidal shampoo, but there are some caveats here. First, you can check if your child actually has head lice before dousing his head with pesticides. Dandruff and dirt are often mistaken for lice eggs, and even if you find real eggs, they can be caused by an earlier infestation that went away on its own before you noticed. Instead, you’re looking for real live lice. They are tiny, about the size of a sesame seed, and their eggs are within half an inch of the scalp.

Insecticidal shampoos are not perfect, but they are the most reliable treatment

There are many different types of shampoos that kill lice, but insects, including the aforementioned “super lice,” may be resistant to some of them.

Dr. Devore says it’s best to check with your pediatrician because they may know which shampoos are best for your area. They can also hook you up to prescription shampoos. (Here’s a handy table of the various treatments available.) Prescription treatments have a higher price tag, up to $ 250, according to Dr. Devora. Pharmacy treatments are most often in the $ 25 price range, but if they don’t work and you end up trying them several times, they may end up being more expensive in the long run.

Besides resistance, there may be other reasons why the treatment is not working. The CDC describes the culprits : you may not have followed the instructions exactly, you may have had conditioner applied to your hair initially, or you may have used the product for two treatments but applied a second treatment too soon or too late. It is worth double checking that you followed the instructions exactly to avoid reprocessing.

If insecticidal shampoos seem too difficult or dangerous, you may be tempted to simply soak your child’s hair with mayonnaise and put an end to this. The idea behind the mayonnaise or olive oil treatment is to smother the lice, but there isn’t enough evidence to say if these treatments work. Give them a chance if you like, just be mindful of the uncertainty.

By the way, if your child really wants to shave his head, that’s an effective treatment. However, this is not necessary. If it’s not their favorite hairstyle, use shampoos and the like.

There is another option: professional head lice removal services. They may use the same treatments you can try at home, but many also use AirAllé , a device that uses air to dehydrate lice. This is something like a low-temperature high-speed hair dryer. The manufacturer AirAllélists the uninstallation services that use their product here . Many others are independent local businesses that you can find by searching in your area or asking for recommendations. Technology aside, I believe a great attraction of hiring a service is that you don’t have to deal with your child’s mistakes heads up close and personal.

If there are multiple lice on shared pillowcases or headgear, simply wash or dry them. Temperatures above 130 degrees Fahrenheit will kill the lice. Leaving items in a plastic bag for a few days will kill any live lice, and if you paranoidly suspect eggs may hatch on this hat or comb (unlikely as they require body heat to survive), you can leave the bag closed for two weeks.

I have never had head lice in my family and I will probably ignore my own advice and be completely alarmed if I ever do it. But it is good to know that little critters are harmless and do not settle in my house, and that I or another brave soul can get rid of lice by following the instructions in the pharmacy or the prescription for treatment.

Illustration by Angelica Alzona .


Leave a Reply