Preventing and Treating Head Lice: A Parent’s Guide to Unpleasant Parasites

image of mother combing and treating hairline of daughter for lice

Prevention:

Preventing head lice may seem impossible when you consider how easily lice epidemics spread throughout schools and how good lice are at reproducing and clinging to their human host. Although lice may be intimidating, there are a few precautions you can take as a parent to help your child avoid lice.

If you’ve learned that one of your children’s friends has lice or that there has been a lice outbreak at school, speak to your child calmly about avoiding activities or games where head to head contact may be involved. Lice utilize head to head contact more than anything else in order to spread from host to host so it is important to limit this type of physical contact.

It was once believed that lice primarily used personal items, such as hairbrushes and pillows, to spread from host to host.  Recently, studies have found that this happens less commonly than previously suggested. While spreading of lice in this way is rare, it is possible that lice do fall out of hair accidently and onto these types of personal items. Because of this accidental transfer, it is important to discourage the sharing of personal items between children. Brushes, hair accessories, hats, towels, and earphones should not be shared, especially during a lice outbreak in school. If you suspect that your child may have let others use these personal items, it is worthwhile to sanitize and wash them.

 One of the most obvious signs of lice is itching. While many people experience itching due to an allergic reaction to lice saliva, some people do not share these symptoms. If your child’s school has notified you of a lice outbreak, do not rely on itching to decide if your child may of may not have lice. Check your child for lice regardless of obvious symptoms so that treatment can begin quickly and the spread of lice can be thwarted.

Treatment:

Treating head lice can seem like an especially scary task. Remaining calm and reassuring your child that everything is okay makes treating and eliminating lice a lot easier.  There are believed to be almost 12 million cases of head lice reported a year so know that you are not alone in dealing with this pesky parasite. There are several effective ways to treat and combat head lice.

Over the counter lice medication is a good way to start fighting lice. Products such as Kwellada- P® or Nix® Crème Rinse contain Permethrin, which kills lice. These medications are applied to the scalp and hair but you should closely follow the specific instructions that come with each product. These treatments are fast-acting and can continue to protect from lice weeks after they are applied. There are also shampoos such as R&C® Shampoo + Conditioner that utilizes Pyrethrin to kill lice.

Wet combing is another way to treat lice. After lice medicine is used, dead lice and nits need to be removed from the hair. In addition, some lice eggs may remain viable after treatment since the shell of the eggs protects them. Removing them with a comb decreases the risk of reinfestation if the eggs hatch.