So you’ve got the dreaded note home from school, or your gut instinct has told you to check your kid’s itchy head: something’s moving, or you see small white pods on your child’s hair. Yup, it’s that rite of passage for those with school-aged kids: lice.
OK, remain calm. It’s so common, especially with so many people traveling, sending kids off to camp, and, where it’s usually identified: school.
Take a deep breath and read on. You WILL get through this with these family-tested steps to rid your family and household of a lice infestation. While lice are not dangerous or harmful to your health, they are a scourge, and you do need to actively remove and control them, or you’ll run the risk of spreading them to others, or suffer a reinfestation.
1. Assess the Situation
If you’ve heard that someone in your child’s class, camp or another group has a case of lice, you need to be on high alert. Check your child’s scalp every day. Look at their scalp, behind their ears and along the hairline to start, especially if you’ve noticed them itching more than usual. Look for a miniscule, thin organism that looks like the tiniest of brown inchworms. That’s a louse, the singular of lice, and will lay eggs (called nits) on the hair shaft if you don’t take action immediately.
If you don’t see an live lice, you still need to check each family members’ hair, and you’re looking for the tiniest, white, egg-shaped pod, that is attached to a strand of hair; that is a nit, and they usually are within one inch of the scalp because the nits need body warmth to stay alive. You’ll need to remove these so they don’t hatch live lice.
2. If You Find Live Lice…
You need to remove them! There are a some tried and true ways to do so.
- Hire a Service: In large cities, this is more common, but expect this to run anywhere from $75 – $150 per hour, and your entire family needs to be examined at minimum to see if they need to be treated. Also, this is not a one-shot deal: you’ll need to be treated, still check for live lice every day, and then return for a reinspection in a week to 10 day’s time.
- Arm Yourself: You can do this. Yourself. One great tool that’s a huge help: a Robi Comb. It’s an electronic comb to comb through each family member’s hair; there’s a battery in it, and it will “zap” any live lice, and a key to remember is if you have live lice, you need to kill and remove them so they don’t lay more eggs, so this is a huge help. If you have found live lice, you should comb through each person’s hair everyday until you have removed all live lice, and you have taken steps (below) to eliminate nits (the eggs). If you don’t have a Robi Comb, you can either get over the counter lice treatments, which are usually a harsh chemical shampoo, and sometimes a gel. Follow directions, they usually come with a very fine-toothed metal nit comb, which will be your best friend over a two week period. Note: you can only use this treatment every seven days. Some medical experts assert that lice are becoming resistant to the chemicals in these shampoos, so you may want to consider the non-toxic strategies below.
- Comb It: As stated above, you will need a special comb for the job – a nit comb – a metal comb with very fine teeth, sold especially for this purpose. If you find live eggs or nits, on any family member, you need to comb through their hair. You can use a cheap hair conditioner – put it in the hair so it is slightly damp – and then comb each section. After each pass of the comb, dip the comb (with the conditioner you’ve combed still on it) into rubbing alcohol—this will kill any live lice—and then wipe off the comb with a paper towel. Continue this process until you’ve combed through all of the hair and you don’t see any more nits (eggs). After the comb out, shampoo the conditioner out. Consider using a drops of tea tree or clove oil in your shampoo since some say that lice don’t like the smell. Note: do not use these essential oils direcyly on the skin, especially with children. They will be diluted in the shampoo, or use a neutral (carrier) oil, and dab it along the hairline. The idea here is that if there are any live lice hanging around, they will not be able to cross the barrier created by the oil into the hair to lay eggs. Check the next morning for nits, and if you find them, you will have to repeat these steps.
3. Prevent It
A pharmacist-recommended tip is to use Cetaphil cleanser on your hair. If you comb it through the hair, using enough that the hair seems wet from a shampoo, then either blow it dry or sleep on it. It needs to sit on the hair for at least 8 hours and will suffocate the nits (eggs). You can then wash it out or, if you find nits in the morning, you can comb through the hair in the morning, blow dry and go to school or work and let it works its magic while you go about your day.
One mother noticed that the Cetaphil seemed to dry out the nits and make them more noticeable and therefore easier to remove after her family slept in the Cetaphil (see, there’s hope!). Another, whose daughter got lice four times at sleep away camp, swears by the stuff.
4. Wash and Turn up the Heat
Wash all soft fabric material, clothing, bedding—anything the affected person has come into contact with, ideally in hot water, and dry in high heat. If you can’t wash items, put them in the dryer on high heat for 20 minutes.
5. Bag It
Put any items you can’t wash or dry in large plastic trash bags. Seal them tight and keep them bagged for two weeks. This will smother any eggs. Remember, they need body heat in order to stay alive and hatch.
6. Yes, It Sucks
Vacuum all carpets and upholstery —even mattresses—and throw out the vacuum bag outside. Don’t leave it in the kitchen garbage, get rid of it.
7. Sharing is Not Caring
Don’t have any family members share combs, hairbrushes, pillows or bedding. You can kill any nits on hairbrushes or combs by putting them in the freezer overnight, in the dishwasher, or boil them.
8. Common Scents
Many people swear by tea tree oil as a spray to use for anything they can’t bag or wash. One mother who suffered three reinfestations in six weeks took to spraying down her kids’ backpacks with it. Use about 8-10 drops in 8-10 ounces of water in a spray bottle. Test on a small area of fabric first to see if it discolors, but we’ve been able to spray down our couch with this concoction without issue. (Note: don’t spray to saturate, spray to lightly dampen). The intention is again that lice do not like the smell.
9. Be Vigilant
Focus on the physical removal of nits live lice. This is truly the only way to rid yourself of this scourge, and do it every day, and at the end of two weeks, you should be nit-free and back to normal life!
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