Head Lice: Symptoms and Treatments
Few things strike fear into a parent’s heart like the dreaded letter from school or daycare stating that there has been a reported case of head lice. The frantic combing of hair, checking of scalps, and stripping of beds is enough to drive even the most level-headed parent into a small-scale panic, but there’s no need for excessive worry. Treatment is fairly simple, and almost always effective, provided that you recognize symptoms early and follow treatment instructions to the letter.
Symptoms of Head Lice
While some children can show few outward signs of a louse infestation, keeping a keen eye on your kids’ behavior and habits can often clue you in well before a notification regarding an outbreak is sent home from school. Because the movement of lice in your child’s hair can tickle or itch, be on the lookout for excessive scratching of the scalp or touching of the head. Complaints of scalp itchiness should be taken seriously, as this is one of the sole symptoms of infestation. On occasion, vigorous scratching and prolonged infestation can cause sores to erupt on a sufferer’s head and scalp; repeated contact with the bacteria-laden surfaces under fingernails can also spread secondary infections to these sores. Because lice are passed predominantly through head-to-head contact and sharing of hair accessories, kids tend to be more susceptible in sports settings or through the hair-play held dear by scores of little girls.
The most definitive way to diagnose head lice without the aid of a physician is simply to examine the scalps of your children for nits, nymphs, and adult lice. Nits, or eggs, are oval in shape, very small, and attached to the shaft of individual hairs. They can be mistaken for bits of dandruff or flakes, so it’s best to make sure that the nymphs or adult lice are present before treatment. Nymphs may be difficult to spot due to their small size; an adult louse, however, is roughly the size of a sesame seed and tan to grayish-white in color.
Treating Head Lice
The best line of defense against head lice is preventing them in the first place, so it’s wise to teach children not to share hair accessories or hats and to avoid head-to-head contact with other children whenever possible. Because kids are notorious for doing the opposite of what parents suggest, there are a number of products commercially available that help to repel lice. The Rosemary Repel Hair Products from Fairytales Hair Care are particularly effective, using all-natural and organic ingredients including rosemary, citronella, tea tree, and geranium oils to repel insects, including lice, from your child’s hair. Products in the line include shampoo, conditioner, leave-in conditioning spray, styling gel and hairspray.
Should prevention measures prove to be too little, too late, there are a plethora of treatment options on the market that are available without a prescription. In order to effectively treat head lice and prevent re-infestation, it’s essential to treat all members of the family with an over-the-counter solution of your choosing. Be advised, however, that there are no treatments available that are 100% effective against nits, so it’s also necessary to re-treat everyone according to the manufacturer’s instructions. If crawling lice are still visible after a full round of treatment with pyrethins or permethrin, contact your healthcare provider for a more concentrated medication such as malathion, lindane, or benzyl alcohol. Be sure to follow your physician’s instructions very carefully, as the insecticides used to treat head lice can be very dangerous if misused.
While there are a vast array of products designed to kill lice on clothing, bedding, and furniture, it’s important to note that the louse cannot survive for long after falling from their host and being separated from their food source. Rather than investing in a half-dozen products to scour every surface of your home and coat them in chemicals, simply launder clothing and bedding in hot water and dry on high heat. Seal non-washable items in a plastic bag for two weeks, soak combs and brushes in water that’s at least 130° for fifteen minutes, and vacuum floors and furniture thoroughly.
Remember that contracting head lice is not an indicator of poor hygiene or negligent parenting; an estimated one in ten school children will suffer a head lice infestation at some point in their academic career.