Don’t Panic When Confronted With This Childhood Nuisance

There are many unpleasant aspects of parenting, from dirty diapers to messy illnesses.  We all get used to the tasks we must face to keep our kids clean and healthy, and as they get older, some of the messiness of the infant and toddler years fade into memory.

Sure, there will still be piles of dishes and dirty laundry, but for the most part, our older kids can maintain their hygiene and grooming habits and at least be semi-presentable without our help.

That is until you get a call from the school nurse and a parental nightmare begins – your child has head lice.  While it is not pleasant to deal with, parents tend to be more overwhelmed by the situation than we need to.  With a little understanding of how to deal with it and a level head, these little buggers will literally be out of your hair in no time.

Here’s the good news:  Lice do not spread disease.  And they are not that easily transmitted.  Head lice spread most commonly in the fall and winter, particularly due to kids wearing hats and scarves – hats and scarves that they seem to like to share with their friends.

This is the first step toward prevention.  Lice do not jump from child to child, so at the beginning of the school year, be sure to remind your child not to share combs or brushes, or any kind of headwear or headphones. And kids love to play dress-up in preschool and daycare, so it may be a good idea to speak to your child’s teacher about keeping vigilant if they notice a child scratching.

Most schools check for head lice in the fall and winter and will notify parents if any are discovered.  Typically once you see no further evidence of nits, your child can return to school or daycare.

And above all, if your child or a playmate has head lice, let them know that it does not mean they are dirty or not well cared for – nothing could be further from the truth.  Remind your child that anyone can pick up head lice and it is nothing to be ashamed of.

Parents.com reported on a few things to keep in mind if your child brings home lice from school or daycare:

Itching is an allergic response to louse saliva that only about half of people have, which means your child may not be bothered at all. Just keep an eye out for other symptoms—red bumps on the neck, scalp, and ears; and relentless, immovable “dandruff” that could actually be nits.

“These can remain after a child has been treated and aren’t a threat,” says Dr. Yan. Still, remove them while you’re combing, especially if your school has a no-nits policy.

The most effective strategy is to treat and then brush with a nit comb daily until there is no longer evidence of nits,” says Paradi Mirmirani, M.D., a board-certified dermatologist with the American Academy of American Dermatology (AAD). Don’t worry about contracting lice by simply treating your child. “Lice don’t jump,” says Dr. Mirmirani. “You can’t get lice from looking at or touching your child’s hair.”

“If someone in your home has lice, there’s no need to tear your house apart or fumigate,” says Anna Albano-Krosche, owner of the Lice Lady of Westchester salon, in Elmsford, New York. Simply wash and tumble dry (on a high temperature setting) any bedding or clothes that have come in contact with your child’s head in the past 48 hours, and soak brushes, combs, and hair ornaments in hot water (at least 130°F) for ten minutes. Place nonwashable items (down pillows, precious stuffed animals) in tightly sealed plastic trash bags for two weeks to starve outliers, or toss them into the dryer on the highest setting for half an hour.

We may want to immediately run to the drugstore and pick up a treatment to kill lice, but it is wise to keep in mind that many of these contain harsh chemicals, and experts agree that the most effective treatment is to use a nit-removal comb several days in a row and follow up until no evidence of lice is found.

When in doubt, consult your pharmacist or pediatrician.  Some lice are resistant to over-the-counter treatments and parents may become frustrated if they continue to see evidence of infestation.

There are prescription strength treatments, but they can be extremely irritating to your child’s sensitive skin due to the harsh chemicals they contain.  Parents.com suggests parents never use the following without the guidance of a physician:

Malathion lotion is a hair-and-scalp medicine for children 6 and older that paralyzes and kills lice and nits. It’s very potent and can irritate skin.
Lindane shampoo is FDA-approved to treat head lice. It can be toxic when misused.
Benzyl alcohol lotion treats head lice in children 6 months and older, but it doesn’t kill eggs, so repeat treatment is important. Irritated skin is a common side effect.

Natural oils, such as diluted tea tree oil, can be used in your child’s hair to prevent re-infestation once all nits have been removed, and several homeopathic retailers sell tea tree oil shampoo and other natural products that deter lice.

We may be waging an internal war with ourselves to stay calm when our kids pick up head lice.  After all, there is a lot of time and work involved in manually removing these little critters from our child’s hair.  But, like anything else, when we are upset, our children tend to follow suit.  The last thing you want when going through this process is for the entire household to be cranky and irritable – so keep calm and carry on, Mom and Dad!

Remember, you may want to pull your own hair out during this frustrating experience, but lice are more of a nuisance than a danger.  You are not alone.  Most parents will have to deal with head lice at one time or another, but with these tips you will have your sanity back in no time!

Has your child had head lice?  What are your tips for eliminating this nuisance and staying sane at the same time?  Leave us your thoughts.

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