Just say the words head lice and you’ll have parents, teachers and pediatricians cringing. These little creatures, about the size of a sesame seed, mostly affect school-aged children between 2 and 12 years old. Lice also create unnecessary fear and panic.

With the cold weather and snow finally here, I’m just waiting for the calls from worried parents about lice and nits. Picture it: Mittens, hats and coats jumbled in piles outside the classroom, with all the kids trying to figure out which hat is theirs. Parents call us in tears. They tell us that their son or daughter has been “kicked out of school” until all the lice and nits are gone. It’s a rough situation.

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) issued a report that provides good recommendations for dealing with lice. Some of the key points of the report include:

  • School-based head lice checks are not cost effective. The AAP says that your pediatrician should take a greater role to help diagnose and treat lice.
  • Accurate diagnosis is important. Oftentimes, children with dandruff or other dirt and debris in their hair are mistaken for having lice or nits.
  • Treatment needs to follow proper use. Over- or under-using the treatment can cause the lice to survive. The AAP recommends an over-the-counter permethrin (1 percent) treatment such as Nix®. It’s important that parents follow the instructions and remember to reapply the treatment about a week later to ensure all the lice and eggs have been killed. Wet-combing and hand-picking the lice and nits from your child’s hair is an effective but time-consuming treatment method. If your child still has issues with lice, work with his or her doctor to find an effective prescription-strength medication.
  • “No-nit policies” should be discouraged. The report says that keeping kids away from school can have emotional and academic consequences. No child should have to stay home from school because of head lice. Most cases of lice are picked up in homes, not at school. Lice crawl. They don’t hop or fly so you have to get lice from direct head-to-head contact. Despite this, many school districts have no nit policies. Be sure to check on your options with your child’s school.

If your child has head lice, they have probably been there for at least a month. Treat the lice right away. Have your child avoid close, head-to-head contact with others until you know the lice are gone. Follow all treatment instructions carefully.

Robert Rohloff, MD~ Robert Rohloff, MD, pediatrician, Southwest Pediatrics

Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin offers 20 primary care offices throughout southeast Wisconsin, including Southwest Pediatrics in New Berlin, Wis.

Learn more about Robert Rohloff, MD.

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