Head lice: What parents need to know

Earlier this year, a Springfield toddler suffocated as her family attempted a home treatment for head lice. The case is a tragic reminder that anyone can get lice, no matter your income, the way you clean your home or how many pets you own. But there are recommended ways to treat an infestation.

Are there natural or home remedies that work? There are some who claim that mayonnaise or petroleum jelly can be used to coat the head and smother the lice. This has not been proven effective, and even the most well-behaved of young children will not sit with goop on their heads for the recommended 20 hours while wearing a shower cap.

Added to the questionable effectiveness of natural remedies are some serious issues:

  • There are frequent allergies to natural remedies like tea tree oil.
  • Plastic shower caps used for protecting fancy hair-dos from the shower are dangerous around children. Children should never have plastic bags on their heads.
  • Oils—peppermint oil, pepper oil or the essential oil of your choice—used in home remedies to smother lice are really hard to clean out of hair, couches and bedding.
  • The remedy some adults use for head lice—dying hair—should not be used on children. Your child most likely already uses shampoos and sunblock for sensitive skin. Adult hair dye can cause reactions for children, including broken skin, hair loss, hives, itching and burns.

How do you know your child has lice?

You might get a call from the school nurse. You may see odd dandruff-looking things on your child where the hair grows out of her head—if it doesn’t move, it may be a nit.

  •  Head lice are tiny, wingless insects that live close to the human scalp. Adult head lice are roughly the size of a sesame seed.
  • The eggs, also called nits, are tiny, teardrop-shaped eggs that attach to the hair shaft. They are often found around the nape of the neck or the ears. Nits may appear yellowish or white, and can look similar to dandruff.
  • Lice move by crawling; they cannot hop or fly.
  • You can’t get lice from your pet. You can get lice from person-to-person contact.

Checking for head lice

Because head lice are usually transmitted by head‑to‑head contact, parents should carefully check a child’s head before and after she attends a sleepover or camp where children shareshutterstock_69235237

sleeping quarters.

How to check for head lice:

  •  Adult lice and nits can be seen by the naked eye, and since they’re pale, they’re easiest to spot in dark hair.
  • Check the top of the head, the back of the head and behind the ears in particular for nits at the shaft of the hair where it sprouts from your child’s head.
  • Check the entire head in sections.
  • Know that lice don’t care how clean you are or your economic condition. They won’t check your bank account before finding a new host.

Safe treatments for head lice

If your child has lice, make sure the treatment chosen is safe; preferred treatments would be those which are easy to use, reasonably priced and are proven to be non‑toxic. All products must be used exactly according to the manufacturer’s instructions. Your pediatrician can help with diagnosis, treatment choices and management of difficult cases.