Head lice are an unfortunate reality that an estimated six to twelve million children and their families have to deal with annually, so chances are that your family will deal with a head-lice scare at least once in during their childhood.

Although nobody likes the thought of insects crawling around on their child’s head, lice are, thankfully, relatively innocuous creatures.

Here are some facts about head lice to help you understand exactly what to expect from the situation:

  • Head lice are small (about the size of a sesame seed), greyish-white insects that live on the human scalp and can lay eggs, or ‘nits’, on hair.
  • They do not have wings and cannot jump, so though they are ‘contagious,’ there are ways to combat the move of head lice from one child’s hair to another
  • Personal hygiene has nothing to do with contracting head lice, they are spread by sharing hair products such as brushes or headbands, head to head contact, hugging, or being in extremely close proximity to someone who has head lice.
  • Lice tend to live on the top of the head, behind the ears, and at the nape of the neck.
  • Some people are ‘allergic’ to lice, meaning that their scalp might feel itchy or tingly, but others may not notice any symptoms and will only be informed of an outbreak by spotting the creatures themselves.
  • You’ll be happy to know that lice do not carry diseases, so though they are never pleasant to discover, the lice themselves are the only thing, thankfully, that you will have to deal with.
  • Lice are more likely to be found on children than in adults as their hair is generally smaller and follicles are more spaced out on children than on adults, and environment which is more suitable to these tiny insects.

How To Check Your Child For Lice

Having an itchy head could be a sign of head lice, but it’s not a particularly good indicator as other common conditions can cause itchiness, such as allergies to shampoo, dandruff, and eczema.

Hand checking for lice is the best way to judge whether or not your child has head lice.

To check for head lice, you must first procure a very fine toothed comb (many advertise that they are specifically made for lice detection) and a flashlight or very bright light.

Wet your child’s hair to slow the lice and make them easier to see.

Use the fine toothed comb to part your child’s wet hair, and continue to make parts ¼ inch away from the last. Shine the light into each new part, paying particularly close attention to the hot spots on the top of the neck, behind the ears, and at the nape of the neck.

If your child has lice, you will notice two things: small, greyish insects on the scalp itself, and nits, or eggs, which will look like very very small particles of dirt or sand attached to strands of your child’s hair.

If you’re confused as to whether you are seeing nits or dirt, dirt will comb out easily while nits are basically superglued to the hair strand.

How To Treat Head Lice

Though there are many over the counter treatments available, such as shampoos, to kill head lice, unfortunately in recent years these small insects have become more and more resistant to these methods.

The most effective way to treat head lice is through combing them out. It is a long and arduous process, but tends to yield the best results.

Comb Out Your Child’s Hair

You will need:

  • A lice comb (normally made from metal with very fine teeth which are close together)
  • Baking soda
  • Hair conditioner

Step 1: Removing the Nits

Place the baking soda and conditioner into separate bowls. Starting on your child’s dry hair, dip the comb first into baking soda and then into conditioner.

Separate and comb out sections of your child’s hair methodically. Wipe the comb on a towel after every couple of passes through the hair.  You should comb at a 45 degree angle and comb up and down the hair.

Start with a section of hair that you’ve seen nits on, and check immediately after combing (either on the comb or in the hair) to ensure that the nits are being pulled out.

Step 2: Remove the Lice

Next, wet your child’s head and lather generously with conditioner.  Wrap in a towel and let sit for 5 or so minutes.

What you’re trying to do in this pass is to remove the bugs themselves. The conditioner and water will slow down the lice, and there is no need to part hair with this pass as it will give the lice a chance to escape into other parts of the scalp.

Quickly comb out hair from scalp to tip, wiping the comb with every few passes.

When you are finished, boil or otherwise disinfect the comb (you can also soak it in ammonia or run it through the dishwasher on high-heat).

Keeping Lice Out Of Your House And Off Your Child’s Head

Once the lice have been removed from your child’s head, it’s time to make sure that they don’t get back on there.

Take the following steps to prevent recontamination:

  • Wash bedding, including running pillows, stuffed animals, etc., through the dryer on high heat.
  • All brushes and hair accoutrements should go through the dishwasher or be boiled.
  • Vacuum rugs and furniture. Although lice technically can’t live outside of the human head, it’s an important step to take to ensure that recontamination doesn’t happen. Don’t forget the car and other places that the child has been in the last 3 days.
  • Continue to wash, or at least dry on high heat, your child’s bedding, hats, and pillows daily for the next five days.
  • Place anything that cannot be washed in a sealed, plastic bag for two weeks.

Comb Out Again

Even if you think you’ve conquered these pesky bugs, you should again follow steps 1 and 2 above two weeks after your initial comb out. If there is only one nit left on your child’s hair, it can lead to another infestation.

Alternative Methods

Though the above method should work for you and your family, there are some alternative methods to removing head lice.

  • Over the counter Head Lice Shampoo and Treatment
  • Prescription Head Lice Treatment
  • Shaving the head (of course, only if appropriate for your child)
  • Smothering head with mayonnaise, oils, or vaseline and allowing to dry to suffocate the lice

How To Prevent Head Lice

Again, as the presence of head lice has nothing to do with how clean your house is or how often your children bathe, keeping everyone and everything clean will not prevent your child from contracting head lice.

There are, however, many other ways to prevent your child from contracting head lice, particularly if you are aware of an outbreak occurring.

  • Encourage your child not to share hair brushes, hair clips, combs, headphones, and hats.
  • Regularly wash and dry clothes and sheets on high heat.
  • Avoid shared spaces for outerwear and hats, such as a hall closet.
  • If lice have been reported at school or daycare, explain to your child why they should avoid close contact, particularly head to head contact, with other children and check their head every two to three days for head lice.