How to Prevent Head Lice in Children

Dear Parents,
This is to inform you that there has been a reported case of head lice in your child’s classroom…

If you have ever received this dreaded letter you know the panic it can bring. Panic…followed by the silent prayer…”Oh please don’t let my child get it”! With back to school in full swing, it’s time to revisit some precautions we as parents can take to help prevent our kids from bringing home these unwanted visitors.

To coincide with back to school and raise awareness of head lice, September is National Head Lice Prevention Month. What can parents do to make sure their children remain lice free? Outsmart those pesky lice with these helpful hints.

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Avoid Head-to-Head Contact
Head lice are parasites that live on human heads, in the eyebrows and eyelashes and feed on human blood. Approximately 6-12 million people in the U.S. get head lice every year. Of that number, the vast majority are children. In fact, of the communicable diseases that affect children of school age, head lice is second only to the common cold. Coming into close personal contact with another person with lice is the biggest risk factor, since lice cannot jump and only crawl very slowly. Children of school age, particularly in preschool through elementary school, are most at risk for getting head lice.

The most common way head lice is transmitted from one person to another is by head-to-head contact. Teach kids to keep their heads away from one another. That means no hugging, whispering secrets or close conversations. If heads don’t touch, lice can’t be passed around. Girls get head lice more often than boys, probably due to their long hair length which increases the chances of hair contact. For girls make sure their hair is braided. If hair is too short to braid, then put hair up off the face and neck as much as possible to help limit hair to hair contact. Although cleanliness plays no role in becoming infested with head lice, they seem to shy away from hair that hasn’t been freshly washed or has been styled with hair spray or gel.

Pay Attention to Hair Care Items
Using shampoos and conditioners that have coconut oil in them may help prevent head lice. If you don’t want to purchase coconut oil shampoos, which can be expensive, then add a bit of coconut oil you use for cooking to your child’s hair along with their regular shampoo. Tea tree oil, menthol, eucalyptus oil, lavender oil and rosemary oil have also been found to deter lice. Soak items like brushes, combs, hair ties, barrettes and headbands in isopropyl alcohol periodically (or even weekly) to kill any lice that may be hitching a ride.

Don’t Share
Parents spend a lot of time teaching kids the importance of sharing. Where head lice are concerned however, kids would do well to forget this advice. Head lice can survive for a few days without feeding on blood. Lice hitching a ride on the inside of a hat or the fur collar of a jacket are just fine to wait until a new host comes along. All clothing, hats, scarves, coats, combs, brushes, hair accessories and even earphones provide a potential hideout for head lice and shouldn’t be shared. School coatrooms are common sources of head lice outbreaks in classrooms. So is the pile of jackets on a warm day on the school playground. Make sure you educate your child about keeping their items separate from their classmates.

Take Precautions at Sleepovers
Enforce strict rules at sleepovers. Make sure children bring their own pillow, bedding and sleeping bag. If your child has recently attended a sleepover, thoroughly launder all bedding in hot water upon their return home.

Regular Housekeeping
Regular housekeeping, especially after a sleepover from your children’s friends, can also help prevent head lice. Make sure you launder all stuffed animals, towels, bedding and pillows after use by a visitor. You need to wash these items in hot water, at least 130 degrees, in order to kill the lice and their eggs. Also wash any regularly worn items (such as coats and hats) or bedding on a regular basis. Don’t allow dirty clothes to hang around the house as they may act as carriers if your child has come into contact with lice. Regular vacuuming of carpet and upholstered furniture can also help prevent head lice in children.

Regularly Inspect for Lice Infestation
Regularly inspect your child’s hair, scalp and behind their ears for head lice on a regular basis. This is especially important if your child has a classmate or friend who has head lice. The earlier you find head lice, the easier it is to treat. You can also lessen the chances of lice spreading throughout your home or to other family members. If your child is infested with head lice, they may have intense itching caused by an allergic reaction to insects saliva. Your child may have red bumps on their scalp, ears, shoulders and neck. As head lice infestation progresses, burning may occur. Scratching may result in scalp pain or bleeding. You may also see live head lice or eggs on your child’s head.

Spotting Adult Lice
When examining your child for head lice, you are looking for two things – adult lice and eggs. Adult lice are tiny creatures, about the size of a strawberry seed. However, they can be as large as 1/8 inch. Look for adult lice along the back of the neck, at the temples and behind the ears. While finding live lice on your child is a sure sign that they are infested, don’t make the mistake of thinking that an absence of live lice means there is no infestation.

Spotting Lice Eggs
Head lice lay their eggs on individual strands of hair close to the scalp. Lice eggs, also called nits, resemble small seeds stuck to the hair shaft and are not easy to remove. Removal requires a specialized nit removing comb. Nits are silvery in color until the louse hatches, upon which they appear clear in color.

So when you get that letter from school. . .don’t panic. You can help keep your kids lice free with some easy preventative steps. And, if they do get lice, stay calm. A lot of kids get lice every year and it’s easily treatable. Need more information? You can find out more on the CDC’s website.


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