No parent wants to discover that their child has head lice. Many people think head lice problems come from poor hygiene, but any child who comes into close contact with other children can become infected. Adults can become infected too although less commonly than children. Head lice infestation is also known as pediculosis capitis and is caused by a tiny parasitic insect that has an affinity for the head and scalp. It’s best to prevent this problem whenever possible since lice are becoming more resistant to the treatments used to destroy them. In addition, many parents worry about the side effects of these treatments. Fortunately, taking a few common sense steps can help your kids avoid having to deal with this common problem.
Tips for Preventing Head Lice
Lice are spread when children interact with another child who is infected. One way kids and adults can prevent head lice infestation is to avoid sharing items that come into contact with the head or scalp. Such articles include hairbrushes, combs, hats, sports headgear, towels, pillows and sheets. Kids should be aware of the importance of not using another child’s personal items at school since school and daycare are two of the most common places kids pick up lice. Ask them to keep their personal belonging, especially combs and brushes, out of the hands of other kids.
Be aware of the signs and symptoms of head lice so you can recognize an infestation early on. One of the most common symptoms is scalp itching. When you closely inspect the scalp of someone with lice, you may see tiny nits (lice eggs) that resemble flecks of dandruff clinging to the hair shafts. Unlike dandruff, you can’t easily brush away these nits. You may also see very small adult lice at base of the scalp and behind the ears. Scalp bumps and sores are also visible in some cases.
Once you recognize these signs, wash all clothing, hats, stuffed animals and bed clothing the child used, and vacuum any area the child came in contact with. Lice can live up to two days on surfaces. Place items you can’t wash into an airtight plastic bag for a few days to kill any remaining lice. If a child with lice played with other children, let their parents know and notify the school.
Do regular head lice checks, especially when your child comes home from camp, slumber parties or overnight outings. A good time to check is after washing, conditioning and towel drying your child’s hair and before heat drying it. You can buy a special comb called a nit comb that makes it easier to detect lice. First use a regular comb to detangle hair - then comb sections from top to bottom using a nit comb. Examine the comb carefully for lice after each stroke. Nit combs are also helpful for removing lice.
If one child is infected with lice, do lice checks on everyone in the household...
If your child or anyone in your family has lice, make sure they’re adequately treated and all nits are removed. Otherwise, the infestation may persist and spread to other members of the family. If one child is infected with lice, do lice checks on everyone in the household and wash any articles they came into contact with. Only children and adults who are infested should be treated.
If your child plays sports and wears a helmet or headgear, purchase one exclusively for their personal use rather than using one provided by the school. Head lice can be transmitted by sharing any type of headgear including sports helmets.
Encourage your child to report any scalp irritation or itching to you immediately so you can do a check for head lice and take steps to stop the spread. Head lice aren’t just confined to children. Children can spread them to adults, so do regular checks on the adults in your household too.
Be aware that infestation with lice isn’t an indication of poor hygiene or bad parenting. It’s a common problem among and one that’s difficult to avoid when kids come into close contact with one another. Be aware of the signs and symptoms so you can stop the spread quickly.
The Bottom Line?
Head lice are a frustrating problem for parents since they spread so easily from child to child and from child to adult. Recognize the signs and symptoms, and encourage your kids to avoid sharing their personal items or using another child’s belongings.