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Lice - Don't Panic - Your Kid Has Lice

Head Lice Basics

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Updated May 22, 2014

Don't panic when your kids have head lice.

Don't panic when your kids have lice. Instead, treat your kids with a lice shampoo, comb out nits with a head lice comb, and clean any recently used clothing and bedding.

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So your child has head lice.

Maybe you got a note from school or daycare that lice were circulating amongst the kids, that they noticed lice or nits on your child, or you may have noticed the lice on your child's head yourself.

Unfortunately, the first reaction for many parents in dealing with lice, a common problem of childhood, is to panic.

Lice

Panicking is not going to kill the lice though and will likely lead to over-treatment and anxiety in your child who is worrying that he has "bugs" in his hair.

Instead of worrying when you think your child has lice, you should:

  1. Confirm that your child has lice. Reviewing some lice pictures can help you understand what you are looking for, including live lice and nits (lice eggs) in your child's hair.
  2. Treat your child's head lice with an anti-lice shampoo, such as Nix or Rid, if you identify live head lice or nits within 1 cm of your child's scalp. Keep in mind that nits which are further than 1 cm from your child's scalp have likely already hatched or do not have live lice in them, so that may not indicate a live infestation.
  3. Continue to remove nits from your child's head, even if you have to check his head each night for a week or more until you get them all.
  4. Nits hatch in 7 to 10 days and develop into an adult in another 7 to 10 days which can then lay more eggs. Since anti-lice shampoos don't usually kill nits, you usually have to retreat the child with lice in 7 to 10 days to kill any newly hatched head lice and break this lice life cycle. Many experts now recommend doing your second head lice treatment on day 9 though.
  5. Clean your child's clothes and bedding if he has lice. This includes washing his clothing and bedding in hot water and vacuuming to remove lice and nits from furniture, carpets, stuffed animals, and his car seat, etc. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, you really only have to clean "items that have been in contact with the head of the person with infestation in the 24 to 48 hours before treatment," and not everything in your house though. And you can put anything that you can't wash in a large plastic bag for a few weeks -- where they will eventually starve and die -- if you are really concerned that it is infested, although this is rarely necessary.
  6. Teach your kids how to avoid getting head lice again, including not sharing hats or brushes or having direct contact with someone with lice.
  7. See your pediatrician if you can't get rid of your child's lice, instead of treating your child over and over on your own or shaving your child's head. Your pediatrician can confirm that your child still does have live lice, teach you how to identify and remove nits, and may prescribe a prescription strength anti-lice shampoo, such as Ovide (0.5% malathion) or Lindane.

Lice - What You Need To Know

In addition to learning more about lice, understand that you are not alone. Head lice infestations are common, affecting up to 12 million kids each year. You should also know that:

  • Head lice aren't dangerous and are not a sign that your kids have poor hygiene or that they are going to catch a disease.

  • Kids can return to school after they have been treated with an anti-lice shampoo, even if they still have nits. Although they have long been against no-nits policies at schools, the American Academy of Pediatrics now states that 'no healthy child should be excluded from or allowed to miss school time because of head lice.'

  • Call your pediatrician if you are seeing live head lice sooner than the 7 to 10 days that you are supposed to do your second lice treatment, as that may indicate that your first treatment didn't work and repeating the treatment too quickly may increase your child's risk of side effects from the lice treatment, especially scalp irritation.

  • Check other family members for lice, but only treat those that show signs of an active lice infestation, with live lice or nits within 1 cm of their scalp.

  • Ulesfia (Benzyl Alcohol Lotion 5%) was recently approved to treat children over six months of age with lice. Unlike other head lice shampoos which are mostly pesticides, Ulesfia is a water-soluble gel that works to suffocate head lice.



Sources:

American Academy of Pediatrics Clinical Report. Head Lice. PEDIATRICS Vol. 126 No. 2 August 2010, pp. 392-403

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