What are head lice?
Head lice only live on human beings. They can be spread quickly by using the hat, comb, or brush of an infected person. The nits (eggs) normally hatch into lice within one week. Your child probably has lice if:
- The nits (white eggs) are firmly attached to hairs. Unlike dandruff, nits can’t be shaken off.
- There are gray bugs (lice) in the hair approximately 1/16 inch long. They move quickly, and are difficult to see.
- Your child’s scalp itches and has a rash.
How can I take care of my child?
- Anti-lice shampoo or rinse. Follow the directions on the package. Most products must be used on dry hair. Pour about 2 ounces of the anti-lice shampoo into the hair. Add a little warm water to work up a lather. Scrub the hair and scalp for 20 minutes, then rinse the hair thoroughly. The shampoo kills both the lice and the nits. Repeat the shampoo in 1 week.
- Removing nits. To make sure the nits are dead, wait at least 3 hours after using the shampoo before removing them. Remove the nits by combing the hair with a fine tooth comb, or by pulling them out individually. The nits can be loosened by applying a mixture of half vinegar and half water.
- Cleaning the house. Lice can’t live more than 24 hours off the human body. Vacuum your child’s room. Soak combs and brushes for one hour in a solution made from the lice shampoo. Wash your child’s sheets and pillowcases in hot water. Items that can’t be washed (hats, coats, etc.) may be sealed in plastic bags for 2 weeks (the longest that nits can survive)
- Contagiousness. Check the heads of everyone living in your home. Treat anyone who has scalp rashes, sores, or itching. Your child can return to school after the first treatment with the shampoo.
Call your child’s doctor during office hours if:
- The rash and itching are not gone one week after treatment
- The sores start to spread or look infected
- The lice and nits return
- You have other questions or concerns
Written by B. D. Schmitt, M.D., author of “Your Child’s Health,” Bantam Books.