Your Kid Has Lice

So you’ve received the dreaded phone call from school: your kid has head lice. After you have gotten yourself together and stopped scratching your own head (phantom lice, I totally get it), I can give you some tips and info.

  • Lice are icky, itchy, no fun all around and sometimes expensive to deal with. They do NOT, however, transmit any diseases. 
  • Lice are also NOT an indicator of how clean or dirty a person or their environment is. Lice actually prefer to hang out in clean hair over dirty hair. 
  • Lice are transmitted by direct contact with someone who already has LIVE lice in their hair – this includes touching heads, sharing hats, hairbrushes, hair accessories, and sometimes scarves or pillows. 
  • They are NOT transmitted by flying, hopping, or being in the same room as a person who has them. 
  • Lice can only survive for about 24 hours when not on a human host. That means that once the bugs jump off the person’s head and go on a carpet or a sofa, they won’t live more than a day or so. 
  • A louse can lay 3-5 eggs a day and the eggs take about 7-10 days to hatch. Then they take another 7-10 days to be mature enough to lay their own eggs. It’s a whole cycle. 

So what do we do now that we got the news? There are quite a few things you can do for lice, some are just things to help but are not proven. 

  • The number one thing you’re going to do is get a proven (proven meaning safe, studied, and approved as a “medication” on the market) store-bought lice treatment shampoo. You can go to whatever store is convenient (Walmart, Target, Rite-Aid, wherever) and find Rid, Nix, store brand lice shampoo, or there are a bunch of products on the shelves. The effective shampoos usually contain Permetherin or Pyrethrin (I know, it’s a chemical but it’s kind of necessary). There are a lot of products at the store that have non-chemical ingredients or claim to be “preventative” but they are not proven to work effectively. 
  • Alternatively, if one needed to, you can go to a local health clinic, Emergency Room, or your pediatrician and they can prescribe a prescription shampoo that can be paid for with medical assistance or health insurance (if you have that). 
  • After you’ve treated with the shampoo, the next most important thing to do is to go through and comb out those nits (eggs)! This is a very important step because if you leave the eggs in their hair they will hatch and re-infest the hair so all the treatment will be for nothing. A lot of the lice shampoos come with little metal or plastic lice combs to use. There is a cool product called the Liceguard RobiComb that uses a little bit of electricity to zap the nits and live lice – it’s NOT a proven treatment but it’s kind of cool and doesn’t hurt (you can get that here: https://amzn.to/2RqrGAv). You will start at the hairline at the back of the neck, take small sections of hair and carefully comb through removing the eggs with the comb and/or your fingers. Go all the way through the entire head in very small sections. It might take a while but it is the only way!
  • You should re-treat in about a week because the eggs that didn’t get removed will hatch. 
  • It is recommended to examine everyone in the home for the presence of live lice and/or nits and treat if lice are present since people living in close quarters are likely to all have lice together. There is no need to treat someone who does not have any notable lice or nits but it is wise to recheck everyone after about 10 days or so to make sure.

After the people are treated you still have to contend with the house as everyone will just be re-infested if you don’t address the house. 

  • Wash and machine dry all bed sheets and linens from the person with lice that were used within 3 days before treatment. Use the HOT water cycle (130 degrees) for the wash and dry with the high heat setting. 
  • Anything that can’t be washed (stuffed animals, certain clothes, etc) SEAL into a plastic bag for at least 2 weeks so the lice are killed. or have dry cleaned. 
  • Soak combs and brushes in very hot water (130 degrees) for 5-10 minutes OR throw them out and get new. 
  • Vacuum, vacuum, vacuum. Vacuum furniture and carpets daily. The lice will get sucked up into the vacuum and die because they don’t have a person to feed on. 
  • It is not necessary to call in companies that will get rid of the lice for you but you are welcome to if you have the means to do it. 
  • It is not necessary to do fumigation sprays or bug bombs in the house since they are not only toxic to humans and pets but also costly and unnecessary. 
  • https://www.cdc.gov/parasites/lice/head/treatment.html you can refer to this page about lice from the CDC for further info as well. 

Many people are interested in alternative solutions to using chemicals on lice, which I totally get! There are a few treatments and ideas that you can try out. I will note that these aren’t scientifically or medically proven to be effective as they have not been studied adequately, but plenty of people have success if done correctly. It is also important to note that using alternative treatments should be done with the knowledge that there are potential side effects such as allergic reaction to products, or introduction of infection due to non-medicinal products being used. It is NOT recommended to use these methods as the only means for treating lice.

  • Mayonaise:  Literally get a jar of mayo – any kind will do. Slather it all over the person’s hair and put on a shower cap. Leave it all night and wash it out in the morning. The mayo is thick and will suffocate the lice. You will still have to comb through with the lice comb to remove all the eggs because the mayo will not get rid of them. 
  • Coconut oil, olive oil, Anise oil, Vaseline (ew!): It’s the same as the mayo. Maybe a bit more expensive though. 
  • Tea Tree Oil: Put drops of tea tree oil on the scalp with a shower cap on and leave it overnight. Wash it out in the morning and comb out all the eggs. There are a lot of products containing tea tree oil that you can use for preventative measures (although not proven medically, many people swear by it!). Be wary though, if you haven’t used Tea Tree oil (or essential oils in general) on the person in question the possibility exists of an allergic reaction or and contact reaction which could be uncomfortable and dangerous. Most essential oils do require a dilution via carrier oil or even water as they can be irritating if used undiluted. Use with caution.
  • Call in the professionals: There are a few companies that will come to your house and do it all for you!  Hair Heroes http://www.hair-heroes.net/, Lice Lifters https://www.thelicelifters.com/, and Lice Doctors https://www.licedoctors.com/ are a few with really good ratings. This can be costly and is not necessary but if you have the means and don’t want to do all of the treatment yourself you can definitely give them a call. 

There are rules in my district regarding the handling of lice at school that come from the Department of Health. You can check with your school nurse on your school’s policy on handling lice. 

  • Because lice do not pose a health hazard, students may remain in school until the end of the day after lice have been noted. The parents will be notified by letter and phonecall (if possible). 
  • The students can not return to school until they have been treated for the lice and the parent brings proof of treatment AND the student checks out as clear by the nurse. Proof of treatment can be the box and the receipt from the purchase. 
  • We no longer check all the students in a class when one student is noted to have lice, nor do we send home letters to every student in the class about it. This not only brings shame and potential bullying to the student who has lice but it also isn’t necessary. 
  • The students are permitted to be in school with eggs in their hair as eggs are not transmittable but the parent should still carefully remove them as soon as possible before they hatch and cause a new infestation. The parent of the student will be notified if eggs are seen. 
  • If you notice lice on your child at home, you should treat them as soon as possible. Please make sure to inform your school nurse and your child’s teacher. 

TL;DR

Lice are not that bad! They may be yucky but they don’t cause any major issues. Treat them with lice shampoo. Alternative treatments may or may not work and have the potential for unwanted effects. Clean in your house for lice in addition to treating the people. Check the whole fam at the same time and treat anyone with lice so it doesn’t keep coming back. COMB OUT THE EGGS!!! Godspeed. 

For school nurse resource please visit www.identify.us.com for all the best info on all things buggy.

Here is the newest guidance regarding management of head lice, an excellent read! https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/epdf/10.1111/ijd.15096?fbclid=IwAR1MX6_MBZgYSoNzdf8jTAc2LHg–Cf90dcsd8KYrAAfQWFfse_stOxnGDM

And another great article regarding head lice management: https://www.pediatricnursing.net/ce/2016/article4005226235.pdf?fbclid=IwAR0h49Y2jmqAkCev6sszWZtzq2TbUCFeRuQb5A6i5uw2ARgKkc8-OUwrMrQ

Published by Emme Mauer BSN, RN, CSN

Mom to two preemies, anxiety sufferer, postpartum depression survivor, and school nurse extraordinaire.

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