Q: Yikes! One of my child’s classmates has head lice–what should I do?
A: Don’t panic. Lice aren’t dangerous, they don’t cause illness, and complications are extremely rare. It’s estimated that as many as 1 in 4 elementary school-aged children have had head lice. It’s second only to the common cold in communicable diseases.
Lice often prefer a nice, clean scalp, so don’t view head lice as a hygiene problem.
Q: How do I prevent my child from catching head lice?
A: That’s almost impossible, especially in younger children, because children don’t have a real sense of personal space. Lice is spread by head-to-head contact, or by sharing hats, clothing, bedding or combs.
Q: So then how do I know if my child has lice?
A: You may suspect lice if your child complains of itching or a tickling sensation on his scalp. In younger children, symptoms may manifest as irritability or sleeplessness. Lice tend to be more active at night, and symptoms may be worse then because lice prefer low-light conditions.
Q: Let’s get to the most important part: How do I get rid of my child’s head lice?
A: Lice are almost always treated by over-the-counter medications that are, essentially, insecticides. Usually you need only one treatment applied to the head, but resistance to these medications is becoming more common, so it may take more than one.
Talk to your doctor about the best insecticide mediations for your child because some may be more suitable than others. Lice can also be removed using a “wet comb” technique. Just wet the hair and, using a fine-tooth comb, go through the hair section by section, combing out the lice and nits. It may take several sessions, but it will work.
Q: Do I have to treat the whole family?
A: Probably not. Lice can live for only about two days off the scalp, and they don’t jump or fly. Check everyone, but otherwise, just wash all bedding in hot water and dry it in a hot dryer. If it can’t be washed, either vacuum it or seal it in plastic for a couple of weeks.