How to tackle head lice in kids

Dealing with head lice

11/06/2015 by Aruna Kamath

Once your toddler starts going to school, you may have to be prepared for many unexpected challenges concerning his health and well-being. Being around with several other kids, your child is exposed to common infections, illnesses and allergies which could consequently affect him. So, no matter how careful you are at home, once he’s out of closed doors, there are a few things that remain out your control.

Once of the most common embarrassing problems that parents face concerning their child is that of head lice infestation. Though this has nothing to do with hygiene conditions, it is still a menacing problem that needs to be attended to pronto, as they are contagious and spread and multiply really fast. A head louse can survive up to 4 weeks on a person’s head and lay 10 eggs a day!

What exactly are head lice?

Head lice are tiny wingless insects that reside in the human hair and thrive on the blood in the scalp. Even though they are tiny, they can be seen with the naked eye. However they move very fast, so its not that easy to spot them.

An adult louse lays eggs on the shaft of the hair which hatch after a week to give rise to nits. These are immature lice which are tiny and white with a powdery appearance, much like dandruff. In about 2-3 weeks time, these grow to mature adults and begin to lay eggs.

How can you tell if your child has lice?

Here are few sure tell-tale signs of lice

Scalp Itching and scratching: This is one of the first and most evident signs of head lice.

Visible nymphs or adult lice: These are tiny, white or transparent and visible on the hair shafts. Adult lice may be difficult to spot as they are very quick in their movements.

Visible nits: These are often mistaken for dandruff as they appear much similar to them. Nits are basically whilte shells which could contain a live egg or be empty. Nits that are closer to the scalp contain eggs, while those away from the scalp are empty. Unlike dandrull, they don’t slide off easily from the hair. They remain glude to the har.

How do lice spread?

Lice can’t fly, so the only way they get passed on is through physical contact. When heads come close or when scarves and hats are shared, or using the same comb or hair brush. Lice can live up to 48 hours without feeding, so it can be also be passed on through bedding like pillow cases, bed sheets, sleeping bags and blankets.

Should you take your kid to the doc for lice treatment?

Head lice are not dangerous, so it may not to be necessary to go to the doctor. But, sometimes, excessive itching can cause crustiness and redness in the scalp and lead to infection.  This may also cause swelling in the lymph glands, in which case you may have to visit your doctor who will prescribe an antibiotic to treat the problems

How to treat lice

You could try non-medicated, home remedies like:

Olive oil and petroleum jelly: Both these can be applied in generous amounts and left overnight. Do remember to cover the hair with a shower cap. Next morning, wash hair using regular hair shampoo. Taking off the petroleum jelly may be a cumbersome job, and many require several washings as it could be quite stubborn.

Wet-combing- This is another effective method to eliminate head lice. This again is time consuming and may have to be repeated 2-3 times a week until all the eggs/lice have disappeared from the scalp.

For this treatment, you will need a special, fine-toothed comb which is available in the pharmacy or the neighbourhood store.

Here’s how to go about it:

  • Apply conditioner generously on wet hair. Thoroughly spread it on the entire scalp and along the hair strands.
  • Allow it to stand for about 15 minutes. You may also cover the hair with a shower cap.
  • Comb the hair to clean off the conditioner, each time rinsing the comb. You’ll be able to see the lice each time you comb.

Eucalyptus Oil: This is a fairly easy and effective method to remove lice.

  • Before using the oil, hair should be washed thoroughly.
  • Towards the end, put 3 drops of the oil into your palm and then spread it all over your child’s scalp.
  • Immediately cover the hair tightly with a towel so that the smell of the oil is trapped in the hair.
  • The fumes of the oil will suffocate and kill the eggs.
  • You can remove the towel after 20-30 minutes and run the comb through the hair to remove the lice and eggs.
  • This process must be repeated at least thrice a week, until all the eggs are killed.

Medicated treatments: Alternative to home remedies, you could try medicated shampoos and soaps that are available over the counter at pharmacies.

A few things to remember when using medicated treatments:

  • Don’t use conditioners or a shampoo/conditioner combination before putting on lice medication.
  • Don’t wash your hair for 1 to 2 days after using a medicated treatment.
  • Don’t use more than one head lice medication at a time.

How to prevent lice

  • The simplest way to prevent the spread of lice is to wash all the linen – pillow cases, sheets, blankets, towels et al, thoroughly in hot water.
  • Soak all the hair brushes and combs in hot water with some anti-lice shampoo dissolved in it. This will kill the lice and disinfect the hair brushes.
  • Check your child’s scalp every 2-3 days to check for new lice or nits.
  • You can vacuum the child’s room to get rid of any stray lice.

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