Fall brings the return to school for our children and often, to the dismay of many parents, the return of head lice. Head lice are tiny, wingless insects that live among human hairs and feed on small amounts of blood drawn from our scalps. They are very common and occur most frequently in children between 3 and 12 years of age.
Lice are not dangerous and do not spread disease, but they are contagious and annoying!
Lice and nits: What to look for
Lice can be seen by the naked eye and their eggs, also referred to as nits, live on the hair shaft close to the scalp, hatching 1 to 2 weeks after they are laid. It is much more common to see nits in a child’s hair than live lice. The live adult louse can survive up to 2 days off of the scalp, which is important when discussing treatment and eradication.
Itching of the scalp is the hallmark symptom of lice infestation. However, the itching may not always start immediately and may sometimes be delayed for weeks.
If you are suspecting a lice infestation in your child or they have known contacts with infection, check for lice using a fine-tooth comb on the scalp, behind the ears, and around the nape of the neck. A magnifying glass and bright light may help.
If the day comes that you find nits or lice, do not panic! There are several over the counter treatments available and guidelines to help rid your children and home of lice. Since these treatments are insecticides, it is very important that you follow the instructions for application and age guidelines closely.
After treatment, it is recommended that you remove the nits from your child’s hair using a fine-tooth comb and repeat the treatment as directed in the package insert. This can help prevent re-infestation and resistance to treatment.
Preventing head lice
Lice spread mainly through head-to-head contact; however, sharing other personal items can also pass them along. It is recommended that all family members residing in the home be checked and treated as necessary to avoid repeat infestation. No need to treat fido, as pets do not become infected or need treatment.
There are some other measures you can take in your home to help rid of lice that may have strayed from the scalp, however, remember that they only survive for up to 2 days off of their host.
- Wash all bed linens and clothing in very hot water and put them in the hot cycle of the dryer for at least 20 minutes. Items that cannot be washed in this manner should be placed in an airtight bag for 2 weeks.
- Vacuum all carpet and upholstered furniture and soak all hair-care items in rubbing alcohol for 1 hour followed by a wash in warm soapy water, or throw them away and replace.
If you are overwhelmed with the discovery of lice in your child or have any questions regarding diagnosis, treatment, or prevention please contact your child’s medical provider. We are here to help!
- Jennifer Jablonowski, MSN, RN, CPNP, nurse practitioner, Westbrook Pediatrics
Westbrook Pediatrics is a Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin primary care clinic in Brookfield, Wis. Children’s Hospital has 17 primary care clinics located throughout Southeast Wisconsin. Call (414) 266-1660 to find a clinic near you.