The idea of head lice is enough to make your skin crawl (literally), but they're a fairly common occurence once your kids start socialising with other kids, and definitely once they start attending day care or school.
Gilles San Martin, Wikimedia Commons
What are head lice Head lice are small insects that live in the hair and feast on the blood from the scalp. They can cause itchiness and redness, but aside from that are relatively harmless. They do not cause additional diseases or illness. If you can it is recommended to catch the lice whilst they are still in the 'egg form' (nits) which are pale yellow or light brown and hatch after 7-10 days. Once they hatch, it takes the lice about a week to mature and that is when they start to bite, and start to cause itchiness on the scalp. The mature lice will likely also breed, and if not spotted and treated, the amount of lice will multiply.
How do kids catch lice Head lice get spread from one person to another through direct contact, e.g. a child putting their head next to the head of another child. Lice are not superheroes, they do not fly and they do not leap from head to head. Additionally, they cannot live on furniture, hats, toys or on clothing so it is not normally through the sharing of items that lice get passed on, it is more through direct contact. Girls tend to be more prone to lice due to the longer hair length.
What can you do Whilst it is difficult to prevent head lice, here are the following steps that you should take as a parent to small children.
1) Check your child's head for lice at least once a week. Early detection means early treatment so this is key.
2) If you find any eggs (nits), or lice, buy an appropriate over the counter treatment from your pharmacy or health shop. Some treatments will involve you combing the lice out of the hair, and if you want to avoid chemicals on your childs hair, this is an option.
3) Use the treatment as directed until the signs of lice have gone. Check your childs head every two days to monitor the growth of the lice. Some treatments are more effective than others, and it might be a case of finding the right one to suit your child.
4) Check the whole family for head lice, this includes the adults. If anyone has lice, the appropriate treatment needs to be applied.
5) Advise your childs daycare or school that you have had some unwelcome visitors (lice) so that they can let other parents know to be vigilant. The more parents that know about lice being present, the more likely treatment will be forthcoming to stop the lice reinfesting your child.
6) Whilst it is difficult to prevent lice, you should remind your children to try to avoid head to head contact with other children. For kids with longer hair, tie the hair back to also avoid additional contact. Whilst head lice cannot live for long on hair bands, hats and combs etc, advise your children not to share these items.
I won't tell you how many times I felt itchy just writing this article....urgh!