how to get rid of head lice(128156)
Credit: photo by Avalore on Flickr

Help, my child has lice! What do I do?

In life, lice happens. Chances are, if you have a child attending school or daycare, at some point or another, he or she may come home with head lice. If this happens, it does not make you a bad parent. However, your mettle as a mom or dad will be tested as you attempt to get rid of those stubborn parasites. As a parent and a teacher, I have dealt with the issue personally on more than one occasion. I have spoken in length with medical professionals on the subject, I have researched it extensively, and most importantly, I have battled it in the trenches. Thus, I've learned more about the treatment and prevention of those little nuisances than I ever wanted to learn. So, if you have a child who has inadvertently brought lice into your abode, here's what you need to know to battle those buggers.

First, how do you know for certain that it’s lice? The first sign is typically that your child is suddenly scratching her head – a lot. Or you might see a tiny dot of a critter suddenly skip off your child’s head or appear crawling nearby. If one of these situations occur, you likely have yourself a louse (singular of lice). If you suspect lice, move your child under good lighting and check his or her scalp and hair all over. Use a comb and separate the hair in sections. Look especially in the area where she has been scratching. The louse itself is tiny, dark-colored, and wingless, and you will know it by whether or not it’s moving around on her head. The egg (also called nit) is brown or tannish in color and is about the size of a pinhead. It will attach itself to the scalp closest to the hair shaft.

So now that you are certain you have a lice problem, what do you do? First, you must treat with an over the counter lice shampoo such as RID. Leave it on for the recommended time (and no longer) before washing out. Be extremely careful not to get it in the eyes or mouth, as it is highly toxic. Understand that this treatment will kill only the live bugs. It does not kill the eggs. If you do not eradicate the eggs also, they will hatch out in a few days, and you are back to square one. It only takes one stray egg to make a whole new tribe of hundreds of lice. Even if you think you have gotten rid of them all, it is possible that you have missed at least one stray or two, so you must repeat the treatment in seven days and continue to search for eggs every day during this period.

Next, you will have to pick the eggs out one by one. For this project, you will need a good pair of tweezers, a fine tooth comb, a cup of alcohol, good lighting, and some form of electronic entertainment for your child. Start at one area of the scalp and work your way over the entire head, combing and picking as you go. Drown each nit or louse in the alcohol. Repeat the process over and over until the scalp is completely clear of every single nit.

In between treatments, wash the hair with a tea tree oil shampoo and/or vinegar. Be aware, the vinegar will sting if there is an open wound, so only use this if there are no open abrasions. The tea tree oil shampoo is milder and can be used as a preventative treatment even after the lice is eradicated. It is also good for dry scalp, which can be a result of the harsh treatment products.

Wash everything
. The biggest problem with lice is once it gets a foothold on pillows, stuffed animals, or in other fabric, it just keeps coming back. Wash everything you can stuff in a washing machine in hot water and dry it on high setting. If it cannot be immersed in water but will fit in the dryer, a good long tumble at a high setting will do. Vacuum all the furniture and carpets. For fabric furniture that is too large to go in the machine, you can spray it with Permithrin, which is the same ingredient in the lice treatment shampoo. But be careful. Again, this stuff is extremely toxic, so don’t put it on anything that might go in a pet or small child’s mouth.

Lice does not like hair products. Spraying hair spray or applying mousse or gel every day helps repel it. Lice also favors fine hair. Lice does not care for black of African-American hair, so fortunately they rarely get infested.

Lice will eventually die without a human host to attach it too. After about four days, if a louse finds itself utterly without a homosapien,  it is done for. A nit can survive a little longer, for up to ten days off a human host. Eggs cannot hatch in temperatures of below about 68 degrees Fahrenheit.

When you find lice on your child, please inform his or her teacher or the school nurse. As a teacher myself, I appreciate the parents that let us know when there's a lice situation, so that we can take necessary precautions in our classrooms to prevent the spread. We do not think badly of you. If anything, it actually raises our opinion of you for being courteous and letting us know.

Remember, if your child gets lice, it does not make you a neglectful parent. It simply means you have a job ahead of you. You must take the necessary and proactive steps to eradicate the situation. The process is not easy nor is it fun. And if the situation goes untreated, it can lead to infection and in severe cases, even require medical intervention. But once you discover the problem, if you commit yourself to the daily eradication of it, you can absolutely be rid of the little creatures in about seven to ten days.