Now that the kids have returned to school and childcare, one thing you might find yourself dealing with is Head Lice (also called Nits). It’s incredibly frustrating and, unfortunately, hardly anyone will be immune if there’s an outbreak at school.
So, what are Head Lice?
Head Lice are tiny parasitic insects that have no wings and cannot jump but that live among human hair. They feed on tiny amounts of blood that they draw from the human scalp.
How do you catch Head Lice?
Head Lice are extremely contagious and you catch them mostly from close contact with another person who has them. You can also catch them by sharing personal items like hairbrushes, combs, hats, clothes and towels or via pillows or headrests.
How will you know that someone has Head Lice?
Your first indication will be that your child (or yourself) is continually itching their head. These little guys run around on the scalp and that’s what causes the itch. The other thing causing the itch is their bites. The lice themselves don’t typically spread disease but infection can occur once the skin is open from the bite. As the child (or adult) scratches their head, germs and bacteria from under their nails and on their hands can infect the open skin, which in turn becomes tender and itchy.
So other than the itching, what are you looking for?
Check your child’s hair and scalp either outdoors in the sunlight or indoors in a good, bright light. Look closely at the scalp, using a comb if needed to separate sections of hair. Lice eggs can be seen around the base of the hair shaft, close to the scalp. They will look like little yellow or brown “balls” surrounding the strand of hair. You can slide the egg off the hair but you won’t be able to simply shake it off. If your child’s head is heavily infested, you might also see a number of lice crawling through the hair near the scalp. You might see a red rash near the base of the hairline above the neck or behind the ears. You may even see tiny scabs scattered through the hair, which could be the result of constant itching.
How do you get rid of Head Lice?
Now comes the tricky part. My girls are now 25, 23 and 17 so over the years I’ve had to deal with several outbreaks of these pesky creatures. I reckon I’ve tried every product on the market and in the end the most effective treatment for us has been a lice comb and a cheap bottle of conditioner. Everything else I’ve tried has either been ineffective or expensive or, in most cases, both. I also didn’t like using harsh chemicals on the girls’ scalps.
Each night after shampooing their hair, I would smother it with conditioner making sure there was loads of it near the scalp. Next I’d grab a lice comb and thoroughly comb their hair. All my girls had thick hair, so I would comb it in sections working from the base of the scalp around the neck working towards the front of the scalp. A couple of hair ties or clips will be helpful to section the hair. Make sure the comb get as close to the scalp as possible so you scoop up any little creatures. I’ve always used plastic lice combs but just check what’s available at your local chemist/pharmacy.
Here’s the most important part of this method. You will need to do this every day for at least 14 days (and a little longer if you want to be absolutely certain). Combing the hair with a fine Head Lice comb should remove any live Lice but won’t necessarily remove all the eggs. Lice eggs usually hatch within 7 – 10 days, so the continual combing every day will catch any newly hatched lice before they have a chance to breed again. Head lice reach adult size in around two weeks and the breeding cycle repeats itself roughly every 3 weeks. Ultimately, the goal is to interrupt their life cycle. Even if you think you’ve got it beat after a week, keep combing. It would be a really frustrating for your child to be reinfested because a couple of little critters slipped through.
Here is a link to an effective combing technique:
As well as treating your child’s head, it’s also a good idea to wash their bed linen. Wash it in hot water along with any towels they may have used. If possible, dry everything in a clothes dryer on the hottest setting. Vacuuming the carpet is a good idea as this will collect any lice and any hair with eggs attached, however, I was never too pedantic as lice can’t survive without a human blood supply and will usually die within 24 hours anyway.
What can you do to prevent Head Lice from returning?
Once you’ve got rid of the Lice, here are a couple of things that may discourage Head Lice from setting up camp again in your child’s hair:
- Head Lice prefer clean hair so, if you’re aware of an outbreak at school, maybe don’t wash the kids hair every day and let the hair’s natural oils help deter the little creatures. If you can’t stand the thought of not washing your child’s hair, wash it as normal and spray lightly with hairspray. This will make it harder for head lice to get close to the scalp. Hair gel works well too.
- Mostly in the case of girls, keep their hair tied back firmly in ponytails so it’s more difficult for Head Lice to get close to the scalp.
- I used to spray the girls hair daily with a mixture of water, conditioner and Tea Tree Oil. Simply mix 15 drops of Tea Tree Oil with 1 tablespoon of conditioner and 500ml of water in a spray bottle. Squirt the lightly hair all over (including next to the scalp) before doing their hair in the morning. Tea Tree Oil is especially effective as it’s a natural pesticide, however, Lavender Oil and Eucalyptus Oil also work well. Apparently head lice don’t like the smell and will stay away. Not only that, your homemade spray will make their hair shiny and easier to comb and detangle.
- During an outbreak, keep the kids hair well trimmed and even a little shorter than normal so that, if you do need to give them the “conditioner treatment”, at least it will be easier to get the Lice Comb through shorter hair.
- Check hair regularly. Head Lice will be easier to get rid of if you get to it early.
- Don’t use insect sprays, pet flea/tick treatments, methylated spirits or any other harsh chemicals on you or your child’s head. Some of these products can be toxic and cause harm, so always consult a doctor if you are having trouble getting rid of the Lice.
And a couple of final thoughts:
- Treat Head Lice quickly and don’t assume that they’ll just go away because they won’t.
- Don’t feel guilty. It doesn’t mean that you and your kids aren’t clean and hygienic … anyone can become infected with head lice … you just have to get close enough to someone that’s infected … it’s that easy!
- Don’t panic. It will take some effort but you can get rid of them.
- Encourage the kids not to be embarrassed … it’s just one of those things and it happens.
- Be compassionate … if you’re lucky enough to get through 13 or so years of schooling without encountering Head Lice, well that’s almost the same odds as winning Lotto. So, given that it will affect most families at some stage, avoid pointing the finger or blaming someone else.
- Talk about it and share ideas with other Mums and Dads that are possibly going through the same thing.
So, remember, Head Lice do not discriminate and can go after you no matter how clean and hygienic you are. Remember also, everyone is different. The treatment I’ve outlined above worked for my family … it might work for yours but it might not. Your doctor, pharmacist or local hospital should be consulted if you have any concerns or issues with health in your family.
So tell me, have you had to deal with Head Lice and what treatments have worked for you?