Amazingly enough (it is after all, still March), buds are on the trees, the days are lighter longer, and winter—such as it was—looks like it’s behind us. And while that means you no longer have to worry about shoveling or snow days, a different challenge awaits.
Its name is head lice, those tiny critters that make a home in your children’s hair (their friend’s hair, your sofa cushions) and all but refuse to leave. And while the appearance of head lice is certainly not limited to the Spring season, the return of sports and the sharing of head-gear certainly seems to spread it at a faster clip.
Avoiding them can be tough and it’s important to remember—even though they are icky and a pain to get rid of—that head lice are not a sign of bad hygiene or neglect and that they do tend to gravitate to clean hair.
Hopefully the tips below will help you have a lice-free season:
- Tip #1: Tell your kids to avoid sharing hats, combs, brushes, helmets and other sports-related head-gear. Yes, it is hard when they’ve been cooped up in the house all winter. However, direct contact with the little suckers (meaning lice) is the surest way to get them.
- Tip #2: Tell your kids not to share clothing (this is a tough one to enforce, especially if you have teenage girls!).
- Tip#3 : If your child has long hair, try and keep it pulled back. Next to sharing something that’s touched the hair of someone who has lice is hair-to-hair contact.
- Tip #4: The first symptom of head lice is generally an itch. Ask your child to let you know if their head starts to itch or feel uncomfortable in any way. Inspect their heads as best you can—or call Lice & Easy and have us come and do it for you.
- Tip #5: You may want to periodically comb out your child’s hair with a lice comb and conditioner. That way if they have picked a louse or two, it will help get rid of the problem before it gets extreme. How to tell if it’s head lice? Grab a magnifying glass and a comb and look for crawling insects about the size of sesame seeds. Nits—the eggs of the head louse—are small yellowish-white and oval-shaped eggs. Nits are always the same shape (never irregular or fuzzy) and attach to the hair shaft, usually within 1/2 – 1 inches of the scalp. Nits must be laid by live lice and you cannot “catch nits.” Unlike dandruff, nits will not brush, blow or wash out of hair.
- Tip #6: If you find out that a child who has been in close proximity to one of your children has head lice (and trust me, as they get older they’ll be less likely to want to share the news), you should be sure to get your child checked too. The icky fact is that a female louse lives for approximately 30 days on a host and lays 3-5 eggs a day (try not to think about it too much!). Once laid, it takes 7-10 days for a nit to hatch, and another 7-10 days for the female to mature and begin laying her own eggs.
So what do you do you do, despite your best efforts, if you child gets lice? Lice & Easy helps put with this To-do list:
PART ONE: HELP!
Q. I think my child might have head lice. How can I tell?
A. Head lice are crawling insects about the size of sesame seeds. They cannot hop, jump or fly but they crawl very quickly. Lice are clear in color when hatched, and then quickly develop a reddish-brown color after feeding. Like vampires (but generally not as attractive), head lice feed on human blood. They need human blood in order to survive. The main symptom of head lice is an itchy scalp from bites.
Nits—the eggs of the head louse—are small yellowish-white and oval-shaped eggs. Nits are always the same shape (never irregular or fuzzy) and attach to the hair shaft, usually within 1/2 – 1 inches of the scalp. Nits must be laid by live lice and you cannot “catch nits.”
Q. Can I wait and hope they shampoo out?
A. Waiting is the worst thing you can do. A female louse lives for approximately 30 days on a host and lays 3-5 eggs a day (try not to think about it too much!). Once laid, it takes 7-10 days for a nit to hatch, and another 7-10 days for the female to mature and begin laying her own eggs. And unlike dandruff, nits will not brush, blow or wash out of hair.
Q. What should I do next?
A. First of all, don’t panic. Slather your child’s head with Crisco, Vaseline, mayo or olive oil and cover for 6-8 hours (or as long as they can bare it!). This will suffocate the lice. Next, schedule an appointment with a professional to make sure all the lice and nits are removed from your child’s hair.
PART TWO: AFTER THE LICE HAVE GONE
Q. So…are we in the clear now?
A. Not quite. Now you need to turn your attention to anything that your child might have come in contact with including sheets, stuffed animals, the couch, etc. Head lice off of their human hosts will starve. The NPA suggests that, in most cases, a head louse will not survive for more than 24 hours off of its human host. That said, you still need to do the following:
- Vacuum carpeting, car seat backs and sofas.
- Wash and dry all bedding, hats, etc. in hot water and dry on high heat, if possible.
- Put anything that can’t be washed (pillows, stuffed animals, etc) in the dryer for 30 minutes on high heat. Lice will be killed by exposure to 140 degrees Fahrenheit temperature for 5 minutes.
- Any items that can’t be washed or dried should be sealed in a plastic bag for three days.
- Clean combs and hairbrushes with ammonia.
- Seal up or throw out any hair ties and accessories that might have come in contact with lice.
Q. What follow-up do I need to do to keep my family lice-less?
A. Although we will leave you lice and nit-free, there is always the possibility of picking up a stray. We urge you to be vigilant and do the following for every treated member of the household:
* Check for head lice and nits daily.
* First week: Apply conditioner and comb through hair every day with a metal lice comb. Clean the comb between passings to detect and remove any lice or nits.
* Second to third week: Repeat as above every other day.
* Additionally: Apply Crisco or Lice & Easy’s fragrant oil liberally to the scalp and hair and cover for a minimum of six hours every 2-3 day for 3 weeks. Wash with dish soap to thoroughly remove.
BE SURE to clean the lice comb in ammonia for 15 minutes between use and/or individuals.
Amy Leo is a partner, with Meera Gall, of Upper Montclair-based Lice & Easy. Their credentials? Amy has two kids and 5 step kids. That’s a LOT of head lice! Meera was born and raised in the former Yugoslavia, where she learned the secret of getting rid of head lice the all-natural way (lots of combing with an infused oil that smells great to humans but no so great to lice).