Dealing with the dreaded head lice
CHRISTY SWIFTAn itchy head. A note from school. Uh oh. Your child has head lice!
Published: October 6, 2012
Published: October 6, 2012
Different from body lice, these irritating, persistent insects live and feed on the human scalp, typically affecting kids ages three to 12 years old (mostly girls). While they aren't dangerous and don't carry disease, they are extremely contagious and can be difficult to get rid of.
Board certified pediatrician Navin Deshpande said he doesn't necessarily see every patient who gets head lice, but his Sebring office fields a lot of phone calls. He warned that since lice eggs (often referred to as "nits") are so tiny, they are often mistaken for things like dandruff or flecks of gel.
"Unless you really see a live louse, there is no need to treat the child," he said. Instead, make an appointment with the pediatrician and let him or her have a look.
Lice themselves are light brown or grayish in color and the size of a sesame seed. They crawl from one head to another, usually when children put their heads together while playing. Less commonly, lice can be passed by sharing hats, combs or pillows.
While schools often had a no-nit policy in the past, the American Academy of Pediatrics now states that children should not be sent home from school for lice.
If your child is confirmed to have lice, treat with an anti-lice shampoo like Nix or RID, recommended Deshpande. These over-the-counter shampoos are made from permethrin or pyrethrum, which are mild pesticides. Rinse hair in a basin instead of a tub or shower to limit the product's contact with the rest of the child's body. Then, carefully check the child's hair to remove any eggs.
Eggs cling to the hair shaft near the scalp and vary in color. They do not fall out or move easily like flakes of dandruff. Instead, they must be slid off the hair with the fingernails. Check behind the ears and the nape of the neck, where they are most commonly found.
When using shampoos, treat again after nine days, said Deshpande. That way, if you missed any eggs, the newly-hatched bugs will be killed before they can reproduce. The bad news is that these pernicious creatures are often resistant to pyrethrum and permethrin. In cases of resistant head lice, your pediatrician can prescribe more aggressive (and expensive) treatments. Or, if you prefer a more natural route, try products like Thursday Plantation's "Zero Lice."
While the internet abounds with "suffocation" techniques using mayonnaise or olive oil, Deshpande doesn't' recommend them. "The method is so messy, sometimes it takes more than a week to get all the stuff out of the children's hair," said Deshpande.
As for the house, parents may want to wash bedding in hot water and run it through a dryer cycle. Stuffed animals can be stored in the garage in garbage bags for a couple of weeks, and some extra vacuuming may be in order. But experts agree that parents' time and energy is best spent on the child's head rather than on the rest of the house.