HELP, MY CHILD HAS HEAD LICE!
Compiled by Robyn, South Africa ~ © May 1010
I have recently updated this article, after another outbreak of head lice in our home! To get rid of head lice and nits, it is necessary to understand their life cycle and what methods do and don’t work. If head lice go untreated or are treated too hastily, you can end up with a household epidemic! Please read all the information below before considering the use of chemicals and pesticides on your children’s head. Although it is quite an ordeal to get rid of lice and nits, be encouraged, with patience and persistence, it is possible. Good luck.
ABOUT HEAD LICE
Head lice are common in children and it is said that they prefer clean hair! They cannot fly or jump and are spread by direct contact or by using the same towels, couches, pillows etc. or sharing hats or brushes with someone who has lice. Adult lice are reddish-brown and are about as big as sesame seeds. They move very fast and can be difficult to see. Head lice are human parasites and require human blood for survival. They can only survive for two to three days when off the human body. Nits are eggs from the adult lice and can vary in colour from brown to white. They are firmly attached to the hair close to the root with a waterproof substance that can’t be washed or blown away. They are about the size of a poppy seed and can usually be found at the nape of the neck and behind the ears. Nits are tough and can survive under water for more than 24 hours! The eggs hatch in 6-10 days and it then takes another two to three weeks for the nymphs to mature and be able to lay more eggs. Live lice live on a head for about 30 days and lay about 8-10 eggs per day! Imagine the possibilities! You cannot risk even leaving one nit on the head, otherwise you may be in the same situation again, a month later.
DOES MY CHILD HAVE HEAD LICE?
The most common symptom of children with head lice is itching, although a few children do not complain. If your child is scratching their head a lot, there is a good chance that they have lice. Check their hair! Find a comfortable place. Search under either bright sunlight or a bright lamp. The lice may be hard to find because they move so quickly and are very small. The nits are also initially hard to find if you don’t know what you are looking for. Part the hair and closely examine the scalp and hair shaft near the roots, especially the nape of the neck, behind the ears and the crown. Look for small white or brown specks that are about the size of a poppy seed. You may see lice quickly moving away from the light. Dry scalp and dandruff can sometimes be confused as lice or nits. To tell the difference between eggs and dandruff, try to dislodge or move them from the hair shaft. If they do not move, they are probably nits, which stick firmly to the hair shaft.
WHAT NOT TO DO!
Do NOT rush out and buy the first lice shampoo that promises to get rid of your child’s lice in one quick and easy swoop! Please. First consider the dangers. Almost all head lice shampoos are pesticides and it is neither safe nor necessary to use these to get rid of lice! There are two main pesticides used in head lice products available today - lindane and pyrethrins. Both are highly toxic and can cause serious damage to the brain and nervous systems. In addition to the active ingredients in head lice products (pesticides), there are many other harmful ingredients as well. The scalp has many blood vessels that are close to the skin, making it easy for toxic substances to be absorbed directly into the blood stream. Children have a less mature system to protect them and to detoxify these chemicals. With lice, the scratching often leads to broken and inflamed skin on the skull. Children with open sores and inflammation are especially at risk because absorption of the toxins from the pesticides is even greater through broken skin. Since most of the anti-lice medications are not ovicidal anyway, meaning they don't kill the nits, and more and more lice are growing resistant to chemical shampoos. Treating a child with dangerous chemicals is really not necessary. There are other more successful ways to treat and get rid of lice, naturally.
It takes a few days to get rid of lice and nits properly and then you still need to do a thorough check a week later and repeat the procedure if necessary. It is a lot of hard work and so many parents give up after one wash and comb through, thinking they have done their bit. DON’T DO THIS! The nits and lice will still be there and other than spreading them to all your friends (which will then come back to you anyway), you could end up having an infestation that will last for months! With a bit of patience and the correct technique, a combination of safe shampooing, combing and nit-picking will get rid of head lice without exposing your child to the dangers of pesticides. After research and dealing with nits and lice several times with my own children, I have found a combination of the following methods to be a stress-free and effective treatment of lice. It will depend what time of day you discover the nits or lice, as to which step you do first. If it is in the afternoon/evening, proceed with the bath time step, if it is on your way out in the morning or just before bed time, proceed with the smothering step first. These steps can be done in any order but must all be done for several days to make sure you get rid of the problem once and for all.
Cover the hair liberally in olive oil mixed with a combination of about 30 drops of any of the following aromatherapy oils – lavender, tea tree, rosemary, lemon or eucalyptus oil (eg. 20 drops of lavender, 10 drops of tea tree). Squeeze off excess oil. If hair is long, tie it up in a tight plait and place cling wrap, a shower cap, or a beanie over the entire head for the night. If it is in the day, tie hair up and cover head completely with a scarf or hat if you are going out. Keep on hair for as long as possible up to 8 hours. Then shampoo the oil out of the hair. This treatment is supposed to suffocate or "smother" the lice. It also makes it difficult for them to hang onto the shaft and lay eggs. It is messy and unnecessary if you discover them when you have time to sit and manually remove all lice and nits. See Nit-picking!
MAKE YOUR OWN NATURAL HEAD LICE SHAMPOO - Please be wary of any shampoos that say they are natural. It is safer and cheaper to make your own… HOW – mix a small amount of any regular shampoo, 3 tbsp olive oil, 10 drops tea tree oil, 10 drops rosemary or eucalyptus oil, 10 drops lavender oil. Work into hair and leave on for half an hour while your child plays in the bath. This mixture has a strong smell. The fumes may burn the eyes; a shower cap may be necessary. Rinse hair. Once the shampoo is out, do a final rinse with 1 part Apple Cider Vinegar to 4 parts water and leave for about 5-10 minutes. This should apparently repel and kill some of the lice and loosen some of the nits.
CONDITIONING AND COMBING
To assure total lice treatment it is 100% necessary to remove all of the nits in your child's hair. You can try starting this by using a fine-toothed metal comb in the bath with conditioner on the hair. Plastic lice combs are not adequate. Remove all knots from hair with a normal brush and separate the hair into sections. Now use your metal lice comb and go through each section of hair from the scalp to the end of the hair, removing any left over lice and their nits. It is recommended that you do this in the bath so that the live lice don’t survive the fall! The combing method may NOT work if your child’s hair is fine. To test this, find a nit in the hair and comb over it once or twice. Did the comb remove the nit? If not, you will not be able to use the combing method. Rinse conditioner off hair. Dry hair and move on to nit-picking.
Using a hot hair dryer for 5 minutes, morning and evening, is a good additional plan. Research shows that heat may help to kill lice and their eggs but the nit picking is still essential to the process.
(Use a second shampoo treatment in 6 days and 10 days to kill any newly hatched lice from nits you may have missed.)
NIT PICKING (This step is absolutely essential!)
If the combing method seemed to work for you, you will still need to search again for any lice and nits you may have missed and remove them by hand. If the combing method didn’t work for you, you are going to have to remove each nit by hand!
Relax, breathe, it’s going to be ok. Once the hair is in sections, go through each section under a bright light. This works best in front of the television to keep the child occupied as it could take a few hours! Once you find a nit, slide it off the hair shaft with your fingernails from the root to the end of the hair, making sure you get it all the way to the end. Drop the nit into a bowl of boiling water, being careful not to drop it onto your furniture or carpets! When the bowl is full, flush the contents down the toilet. If the hair is very long, some people prefer to snip the “afflicted” hair off at the root with some baby safety scissors. You need to do this until you have been through every section and are certain that there are no more nits. Double-sided scotch tape or tweezers can be used to catch running adult lice. It is important that you now check your child's hair every night until all of the lice and nits have been removed.
Head lice and their eggs soon die if separated from their human host. Lice survive a mere day or two, and the eggs generally lose viability within a week. The chances of a live head louse or egg becoming reunited with a host are quite remote. As a precaution, the following steps can be taken: -
§ Wash all bedding, pyjamas, recently worn clothing and anything else that may have come into direct contact with the child’s head such as a favourite sleeping toy etc. and dry in a hot dryer where possible.
§ Combs, brushes, hats and other hair accessories that have come into contact with the infested head should be washed and soaked in boiling water for 10 minutes each day until the lice have been completely eliminated.
§ As an extra precaution, vacuum all furniture and carpets to remove any lice or hairs with attached nits.
The most probable reason for treatments not to work is the failure to remove each and every single nit. Another reason could be that your child is continuing to be exposed to someone with lice. As soon as you find out your child has lice, you need to tell all your friends and any other children you have come into contact with in the last week or two. Don’t be embarrassed, if you don’t, there is a big possibility that once you are rid of your lice, your child will just become re-infected by her friends again. Everyone needs to have regular and thorough checks and treat properly if lice or nits are found. Continue checking your child's hair and scalp daily to remove nits until they are all gone.
Add a few drops of tea tree oil to your shampoo every time you wash. The best way to prevent head lice spreading is to check regularly and treat as soon as diagnosis is confirmed. Again, contact tracing is essential so that re-infestation can be avoided. This means that schools and playgroups, friends and relatives such as grandparents should be informed and the whole family checked. The use of commercial louse repellents is not recommended.
THIS PAGE WAS LAST UPDATED JULY 2006