Schools are in and sports are going which means a lice outbreak is more likely to happen than not. These insects are disgusting as they love the hair and use their mandible (jaw) to pierce the skin and suck a small amount of blood out of your scalp.
Parents despise them as they are intrusive and hard to get rid of. In fact, you may see an adult cry like a baby if their child is found to have louse.
They spread easily and although they aren’t harmful they can cause infections if a child is not treated due to the exposed skin from scratching.
Lice are extremely contagious and move from child to child. Adults can also get them, it’s just more common in children as they are in a larger group setting day to day. Schools will send a note home with your child warning there has been a lice outbreak, but by the time the note arrives home it can be too late.
If you do receive a note be sure to check your child immediately so you can catch the lice in the beginning stages before a hatching takes place.
How do you prevent lice?
Although there is no way to put a force field around your child or yourself there are things you can do to prevent the dirty buggers from reaching your home. Since lice spread through close personal contact or from kids sharing belongings I would strongly suggest taking to heart the suggestions below.
- Talk to your child about lice each year and preferably before school or sports start.
- As some kids learn visually, show them pictures of lice in a library book or online.
- Explain how lice are contracted and have them practice good habits like NOT using someone’s hairbrush, hair ties, headphones, pillows, stuffed toys and don’t set gym bags so they are touching.
- You should also explain to them the signs and symptoms, so they can be aware of what to look for.
- Don’t exchange clothing items.
- “Sexual contact. Pubic lice usually spread through sexual contact and most commonly affect adults. Pubic lice found on children may be a sign of sexual exposure or abuse. -Mayo Clinic”
Signs and Symptoms
Just like any outbreak or disease you may experience a few or all of the signs and symptoms.
“There are three types of lice, states Mayo Clinic:
- Head lice. These lice are found on your scalp. They’re easiest to see at the nape of your neck and over your ears.
- Body lice. These lice live in clothing and on bedding and move onto your skin to feed. Body lice most often affect people who aren’t able to bathe or launder clothing regularly, such as homeless or transient individuals.
- Pubic lice. Commonly called crabs, these lice occur on the skin and hair of your pubic area and, less frequently, on coarse body hair, such as chest hair, eyebrows or eyelashes.
People can have good personal hygiene and still get lice. Unless treated properly, this condition can become a recurring problem.”
We will talk about treatments in a minute but let’s focus for now on the signs.
Lice bites can cause incessant itching on your scalp due to an allergic reaction from the insects’ saliva or feces. As each child has a different level of sensitivity the amount of itching varies for each person. In some cases, it can take up to a few weeks for your child to start scratching.
Irritated and Red Scalp
With the lice chewing away, your scalp can become inflamed and sensitive to the touch. If not treated, you can leave yourself open to infection.
Lice eggs (nits)
Lice eggs (nits) cling on hair shafts. Nits appear as very small brown, yellow, or tan specks in the hair. You may think you have dandruff, but unlike dandruff, nits are not very easy to brush off or out of hair.
Adult lice lay their tiny eggs on hair shafts, close to the scalp because it is a ripe temperature for hatching. The hatching takes place within 1 to 2 weeks’ time. If you notice little specks that take on the form like dandruff in your child’s hair, and they don’t brush out, the chances are that your child DOES have lice nits.
Once a hatching has taken place and there are multiple little nits and adult lice biting and roaming around on your head, you will experience small sores that look like red dots. These sores start to itch and when scratched can become inflamed and opened causing an infection.
When an infection is present your sores can have a yellowish crust and ooze when cut open or scratched.
How Long do Lice Live?
“Head lice can survive on a human host for approximately 30 days. They generally cannot survive longer than 24 hours off the host. A female louse lays 3-5 eggs a day. The eggs hatch in 7-10 days and it takes another 7-10 day for the louse to mature and lay their own eggs.” -HeadLice.Org
Use an Apple Cider Vinegar that has a 5% acidity level, is 100% organic, not filtered, and not pasteurized.
Using a lower level of acidity would not be as effective to unglue the nits from your hair follicles. Using a higher level of acidity might burn your scalp especially if you or your child already have sores.
Step #1: to unglue the nits from the hair shaft you should apply a half vinegar and half water mixture to your child’s hair. Be sure to get close to the scalp, behind the ears and in the neck area. After applying, wait for a few minutes.
Step #2: rinse off vinegar treatment with water. Next, you need to spend time combing to get the nits out. This is a crucial step, so make sure to do it! The vinegar will not remove them on its own.
Step #3: For two-plus days repeat this process until the head lice and eggs appear to be gone. Nits will hatch within 7 days of being laid, this is why it’s so important to get rid of all live nits as soon as possible and within a week from the start date of your vinegar treatment and combing.
Be careful not to get vinegar in your eyes as it will sting.
Using a Shampoo
You can use a special shampoo and a very fine-toothed comb to remove the eggs (nits). Shampoos can be purchased over-the-counter or online. Once you have your shampoo, follow the label directions carefully. The directions can look like this:
- Use a certain amount of shampoo based on the length of your hair.
- Leave in place for the appropriate time and rinse out.
- Shampoo again for 1 to 2 days to allow it to work.
- Repeat the treatment 9 days later.
Tea tree oil, also known as melaleuca oil, has antiseptic properties and can be used as a repellent against head lice. Just put 3 to 5 drops of essential oil on a nit comb and comb through the hair. You can also dab a few drops on the back of the neck or behind the ears.
Olive oil can also be used. However, it is necessary to use a quality lice comb to fully help treat the problem.
- Apply olive oil until the scalp and hair are saturated.
- Wait 6-8 hours as the lice will suffocate in the oil.
- Comb through your hair using your lice comb.
- With a paper towel, wipe off any lice from the comb or wash with a soapy water.
- Now repeat the steps 2-4 until no more lice appear on the comb.
- Follow these steps for 2-3 weeks.
“You do not need to fumigate your house! Lice and eggs die when they are not in contact with your body heat, so if they are on the furniture or carpet or clothes they will generally die in a few days. After the shampoo treatment, change the sheets and pillowcases for a couple of days and launder clothes and sheets, hats, and scarves in hot water (130 degrees) and use a hot air dryer. Combs and barrettes and hair clips can be soaked in 130-degree water for 10 minutes or cleaned with pediculicide shampoo. Anything that can’t be machine-washed, can be dry-cleaned. Other things can be sealed in a plastic bag for two weeks to kill everything.” –Brenner Children’s Hospital
Having a louse comb on hand is a smart approach for families with young and school-age children. Effective screening, combing and the effort given by the parent is what makes the difference. This is true no matter which treatment you decide to take.