Preventing & Treating Head Lice in Kids
With school back in session, you’ve probably already seen a Facebook post or a school newsletter or some other announcement that someone in your child’s school has head lice (shudder). My head starts to itch just thinking about it.
We want our kids to bring home fond memories, new knowledge and a zest for learning from their days at school. We do not want them to bring home head lice. But facts are facts and head lice infestations are most common among school-age kids. So, what can you do about it? Check out these tips for how to prevent head lice. And how to treat it if your child brings it home.
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How to Prevent Head Lice
Treating head lice is something we will cover in the next section. But wouldn’t you rather avoid the situation all together? There are, of course, no guarantees, but these tips can help prevent your child from getting head lice this school year.
1. Establish a No Sharing Policy for Lice Prevention
One of the easiest ways to pass lice from one kid to another is sharing. We all love sharing. And we encourage our kids to do it all the time. But lice is something they can keep to themselves!
Talk to your kids about not sharing combs, hats, earbuds, hair accessories, or anything else that touches their head.
For younger kids, let them know to avoid hats from the school or daycare dress up box!
Young children like to put their heads close together. Kids hug, they take selfies, it’s all fun and games until lice are jumping from one head to another.
You don’t want to freak them out. But talk to your kids about head lice and the reasons for not touching their head to another kids head. Whether it be for a photo or a hug.
And give the lecture about avoiding sharing before a sleepover to remind kids not to share pillows, blankets or bedding with their friends. Bring a pillow and sleeping bag from home. And ask your kids’ sleepover guests to do the same.
2. Keep Their Hair Up and Away from Lice
If you have a child with long flowing hair, keep it pulled up at school. Kids often put their heads close together and free-flowing hair is an invitation for lice. Ponytails, braids or buns pulling hair up could help prevent head lice from spreading from one head to another.
3. Hang Coats & Backpacks on Individual Hooks
At my child’s school backpacks and coats are hung up on hooks during the day that are very close together. This might make it easy for lice to transfer from one jacket to another.
The more space your child can give their stuff from their classmates’ the better. But either way, encourage your child to put their coat inside their backpack instead of out on a hook whenever possible. A backpack is less likely to transfer lice to your child’s head. (Although I can’t say it’s impossible).
4. What About Lice Repellent Hair Products?
Some people swear by lice repellent shampoos, conditioners and sprays. Or adding a few drops of essential oils believed the repel lice to their regular shampoo. These include tea tree oil, eucalyptus, or rosemary.
I encourage you to be cautious about these lice prevention products. Because they are classified as “natural” they are not regulated by the FDA. There is some concern that these products may cause lung irritation or skin irritation in some children.
You can learn more about the concerns from the Mayo Clinic by clicking here.
You may want to try a tea tree oil shampoo that is safe for kids. Or add a few drops of tea tree oil to your child’s regular shampoo. But do your own research and talk to your child’s doctor before you start applying essential oils or natural treatments to your child’s head that may cause more harm than good.
5. Start Doing Regular Head Checks
It is much easier to treat and control a lice infestation when you catch it in the early stages. If you’re lucky you may be able to prevent head lice from spreading among your own kids (or to YOU!) And you may be able to avoid having to delouse your entire house.
A quick thirty-second head check may not be enough to spot head lice in the early stages. Check out this video for a thorough explanation of a head check for lice.
How Will I Know if My Child Has Lice?
When your child has head lice, here are symptoms they might have:
- Complain of an itchy scalp
- Scratch their head and the nape of their neck
- Small red bumps or sores on the head from scratching
- Visible nits or lice in their hair (this one is a slam dunk!)
If your child’s school is having a lice outbreak, do head checks immediately and often. The same if your child has been around other kids known to be infested with lice. Not all kids itch so your surest bet is to do a head check. Even in the absence of other symptoms.
How to Treat Head Lice in Kids
1. Confirm the Diagnosis of Head Lice
Head scratching by itself is not a sign of lice. And some studies have shown that schools and even doctors’ offices may misdiagnose head lice infestation. Before you panic or start applying head lice treatment to your child, do you own head check to be sure. Check out this article to learn more.
2. Head Lice Medicine
Head lice medicine should only be used when you are sure of your child’s diagnosis. And if your child is under age 2, consult their doctor before using any over the counter head lice treatment.
Follow the directions on the head lice treatment package EXACTLY. Many times the reason treatment doesn’t work is because it was not done correctly.
After treatment, you can use a fine comb to comb out nits and lice from your child’s hair (sounds like fun, right?). Many lice treatment kits come with a nit comb.
Rinse your child’s hair out in a sink NOT a shower or bath to avoid lice medicine coming into contact with other areas of the skin.
Some OTC head lice treatments routinely suggest re-treatment a few days or weeks after the initial treatment to kill off any nits that have hatched since your child was first treated. So read the directions carefully to know if you need to re-treat in the absence of returning symptoms.
If you find an over the counter treatment was not successful in ridding your child of head lice consult your child’s doctor before re-treating. You may be dealing with a treatment-resistant form of lice and need a prescription medication.
The CDC has a very thorough walkthrough of head lice treatment here.
Consider carefully before trying any natural or at home treatments in place of OTC or prescription medications.
Consider whether what you plan to apply to your child is safe. And if there is science to prove that it works. Otherwise, you may be wasting time and money on an ineffective solution. And giving lice a chance to spread to other members of your household.
Worth noting, there are now hair salons that specialize in head lice treatment. If the thought of dealing with this on your own is just too much, do a quick Google search and see if you can find a head lice treatment salon in your area. It’s perfectly OK if this is something you want to outsource!!!
3. Delouse the House After Your Kids Have Lice
Gather up all clothes and bedding that have been touched by the infested family member in the two days before they were treated for lice. Wash everything you can in hot soapy water and/or in the washing machine. And then run it through the clothes dryer on high heat.
Some items may need to be dry cleaned.
If you’re worried about your child’s stuffed toys, when possible, put them in the dryer on high heat for an hour. You can also try vacuuming them. If these options are not possible, isolate the stuffed toy in a trash bag for a few days to give lice and nits time to die and fall off.
Soak hair brushes, combs, hard plastic toys, etc in very hot water for 10-15 minutes. And make sure to clean the hair out of combs and brushes to remove any remaining lice eggs.
Vacuum your carpets, furniture, and mattresses to pick up any stray lice or nits or hairs. Sweep and mop with hot water on hard surface floors.
A bug bombing or other application of insecticide is not required. These basic cleaning methods should do the trick.
Kids with Head Lice is Gross, But Not Scary
The truth is the thought of head lice gives most of us the “icks”. No one wants to deal with them. But it helps to remember that head lice do not put your child at risk for serious health problems. It is also not a sign of being dirty or any judgment about your child, you, your family, or your house and their respective cleanliness.
So, it’s not worth using any treatment or product that is not completely safe. If you have ANY questions or concerns about head lice prevention or treatment, and the safety and effectiveness of either, talk to your child’s doctor.
Head lice is a common problem among school-age kids. If your child becomes infected, use safe treatments as soon as you can to stop the spread of lice. And use head lice prevention methods to hopefully keep them from visiting your house again.
Most importantly, know that you can handle this. No matter how stressful the current moment, it will pass and you’ll be a lice free household again soon.
If you have any head lice prevention tips or treatments I missed, please share them in the comments!