How to Prevent Head Lice in Children

How to Keep your Kids from Getting Head Lice

Any parent who has gone through the ordeal of a head lice infestation will advise avoiding the whole situation altogether. Once a child contracts head lice, it is extremely difficult to get rid of them. They are especially contagious and it’s nearly impossible to kill them all in one dose.

What are Head Lice?

For those who don’t already know, head lice are tiny insects that live in the hair. They reproduce quickly and can spread easily just by close contact with an infected person or any of their personal belongings. The insects can live up to thirty days on a human head. Their eggs can live for more than 14 days.

There is a stigma that comes with having head lice. Many people are under the assumption that it indicates poor hygiene, but that isn’t true. Head lice are fairly common and infestations can run rampant, especially among children. The reason they are so easily spread is because they can be passed along in many different ways.

Little girls are especially susceptible to a lice infestation. Sharing hair brushes, combs, pony tail holders, head bands, pillows, sleeping bags, or clothing can lead to the spreading of head lice. Once a little girl has the critters in her hair, they are harder to get rid of because girls typically have longer hair than boys. Slumber parties are known to be breeding grounds for head lice.

It’s also common for head lice infestations to affect classmates. If you think about it, children spend on average 8 hours a day, five days a week at school. During this forty hours a week, they are in close proximity with anywhere from 15-30 different kids all day long.

Consider how close children put their heads together when collaborating on a project, examining something under a microscope, or when laying down for nap time. Then factor in the carpeting in some classrooms, the sharing of personal belongings, and you end up with a recipe for disaster.

How can you tell if your child has lice?

Besides getting a phone call from the school nurse, parents can look for certain clues that indicate a head lice problem. Lice cause the scalp to itch, so any excessive scratching is a good indication of a problem. The eggs, or nits, look a lot like dandruff. The difference is they will not flake off. Instead, they stick to the shaft of the hair. Nits tend to accumulate behind the ears and along the nape of the neck.

Another indication is dry, crusty patches of skin on the scalp, behind the ears, or on the neck. These patches may ooze or bleed if they become too irritated. If you notice your child scratching their scalp excessively, it’s time to do a visual examination. It’s a good idea to wear disposable gloves and have a magnifying glass handy.

Part the hair down the middle with a fine-tooth comb. Gather the hair in one or two inch intervals to create another part. Hold the magnifying glass above the part and wait a few moments. If the child has head lice, you will actually see the little bugs moving throughout the hair follicles. Fair warning, this can really cause your stomach to churn!

How to Get Rid of Head Lice

If you discover your child has head lice, it’s important to treat it right away. Waiting even one more day can put the rest of the household at risk for infestation. Drug stores and pharmacies sell over-the-counter treatments. Look for a shampoo that contains 1% permethrin. The treatment will consist of washing the hair with the special shampoo, then the tedious task of combing the hair to remove the nits.

In order to successfully remove the eggs, a metal fine tooth comb will be needed. Part the hair into six sections. Each section will need to be thoroughly combed through at least twice, all the way from the scalp to the tips.  Rinse the comb between swipes in very hot soapy water. After the initial treatment, check the child’s head again in a week to be sure no head lice or nits remain. Remember, the eggs can live for two weeks on a human head. If over-the-counter shampoos are not effective, consult a doctor for a prescription for a stronger shampoo.

In addition to treating the child’s hair, it is critical to wash bedding, clothing, and carpeting if possible. Use the hottest water setting possible that the fabric allows for. Invest in all new brushes, combs, and hair accessories. Check all family members for lice as well. Once head lice find their way into a home, it’s not uncommon for them to spread amongst siblings.

How to Prevent Head Lice

The best way to treat head lice is to actually prevent contracting them altogether. Teaching children good habits when it comes to sharing personal items is the best place to start. Instruct them to not share things like baseball caps, hair accessories, brushes and combs, or pillows. When your child goes off to spend the night with a friend, pack them their own pillow and sleeping bag and be sure to wash it in hot water when they come home.

Another measure that can prevent head lice in children is to keep long hair bound in braids or pony tails. Hairspray will also deter head lice from sticking and laying eggs. Wearing hats can help, just be sure they know not to share the hat or wear anyone elses.

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