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How to Spot and Get Rid of Head Lice


Girl with head liceWith winter comes hats, earmuffs and scarves to keep them warm. But all that gear sitting in her classroom cubby or closet could also mean being exposed to head lice. Not to mention pillows at a sleepover, helmets playing sports or even shared towels, hair brushes and ribbons. It's no surprise head lice are most common in kids.

Head lice are small, wingless insects that live in human hair and feed on small amounts of blood sucked from the scalp. Yuck! They stay close to the scalp due to it being the perfect temperature for incubating eggs. 

The idea of head lice is creepy, but fortunately the little buggers aren't dangerous, don’t spread disease and can be effectively treated. 

How did she catch them?

  • Head lice are parasites—crawling insects with six legs and claws that help them hang onto your kid's hair. Thankfully, they can't hop, jump or fly, so the only way to pass them from head to head is through direct contact with them, or an article of clothing with the bugs on them.

What do lice look like?

  • They look like dandruff, but they can't be removed by brushing the hair or shaking the head. Combing through wet hair is the best way to search for nits, small yellow-white eggs that are hatched by live lice and "glued" to hair strands. 
  • After hatching, the shell appears to be white and is firmly attached to the hair shaft; this is when it’s easiest to spot them.

How long do they last?

  • Head lice live for about 30 days on a host’s head, and a female louse may lay up to 100 eggs (nits). Once laid, nits hatch in 7 to 10 days. In another 7 to 10 days the females mature and begin laying their own eggs.

What are signs that my kid has lice?

  • As the head lice suck small amounts of blood, their bites cause a child’s scalp to become itchy and inflamed.
  • Signs of lice on a child include small red bumps on the scalp, a rash on the scalp (with crusting and oozing if the infestation is severe) and swollen lymph glands in the neck.
  • Sometimes children may not start to itch and scratch right away, but they may complain of something tickling their heads.

Yikes! How do I get rid of them? 

  • Once you suspect or know your child has lice, try an over-the-counter medicated shampoo, rinse or lotion to kill them. They're made from chrysanthemum extract or a synthetic version of the same. Comb the nits out with a fine-tooth comb after using the medicated shampoo. It's time consuming, but beyond worth it. Check the labels or with your doctor first before applying to very young kids' heads. You may need to treat again in 9-10 days.
  • Lice don't live long without a human head, but you should wash his bedding, fave stuffed animal and recently worn clothing in hot water to kill any creepy crawlies.
  • Using vinegar, tea tree oil or mayonnaise to suffocate lice hasn't been proven as effective, but some parents swear by it. A 2014 study in the Journal of Medical Entomology also found that standard store-bought conditioner can be as effective as over-the-counter delousing products. 

For more information about head lice, visit HeadLice.org, KidsHealth.org and HealthyChildren.org.

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