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Treating Lice, Plus Week in Review

Dear Elizabeth,
What should I do if my child comes home with lice?
Elizabeth's Tips
Elizabeth Sanchez
Elizabeth Sanchez
  • Treat lice with over-the-counter medicated shampoos.
  • Wash your child's clothes, towels, hats, and bed linens in hot water and dry on high heat.
  • Items that cannot be washed can be placed in a plastic bag for 2 weeks.
  • Check all members of your household for lice.
  • If infection persists, consult your doctor about using a prescription shampoo.
  • To prevent lice, donít share hats, combs, brushes, pillows or blankets.
Week in Review
Donít forget about the great things that we learned this week:
Expert Advice
Dr. Tanya Remer Altmann
Dr. Tanya Remer Altmann
Lice are tiny insects that live on hair and feed on the scalp of humans, most commonly, children age 3 to 6. Lice aren't dangerous and they don't spread disease, but they are contagious and can just be downright annoying. Their bites may cause a child's scalp to become very itchy and inflamed. Lice are no bigger than a sesame seed and brownish tan. They lay eggs called nits that look like tiny yellow or brown dots before they hatch. After hatching, the shell looks white, kind of like dandruff, only you canít shake them off. Lice lay nits on the hair close to the scalp.

How Lice Is Transmitted
Lice crawl from head to head. They donít jump and they donít fly. Since young children are constantly in contact with each other, lice can easily spread. They can also live off the scalp for a day or two. They cannot live on your pets.

Preventing Lice
Try not to have your child or the children in your care share hats, combs and brushes, or lay on each others blankets or pillows.

There are several over-the-counter shampoos available. Apply the shampoo to your childís dry scalp, leave on the full recommended amount of time and wash off. Then carefully comb all nits out with a fine tooth comb. This can be the hardest part, especially if you are dealing with a lot of hair. It can also be helpful to continue daily or every few days combing of the hair with a fine toothed comb for two weeks. Sometimes the shampoo may need to be repeated about a week later. Talk to your pediatrician if the infection persists, as there is also a prescription shampoo available.

There are many home remedies that involve putting a thick or oily substance such as petroleum jelly, mayonnaise or olive oil and leaving it on the hair overnight (the child can sleep wearing a shower cap). The theory is that coating the hair with these substances will smother the lice. These remedies have not been scientifically proven to work. However, they certainly won't hurt your child. A more recent home remedy that studies show may help is blow-drying your childís hair. The theory is that the heat may kill the lice. Do not blow dry your childís hair when there is medicated shampoo on it though since the shampoo may be flammable. There are also many lice removal services that will come to your house to wash and comb out the nits in your childís hair. Do not spray or allow anyone to spray pesticides in your home as this can be dangerous and is not shown to be effective in killing lice.

You do not need to throw away any items belonging to your child, but you may want to follow some prevention tips:

  • Wash your child's clothes, towels, hats, and bed linens in hot water and dry on high heat.
  • Soak combs and brushes in boiling hot water for 5 to 10 minutes or wash them with the medicated shampoo or throw them away.
  • Vacuum furniture, carpeting, car seats, and other fabrics that your child was in contact with 24 to 48 hours before treatment.
  • Items that your child has been in very close contact with that cannot be washed, such as stuffed animals or toys, can be placed in a plastic bag for 2 weeks (by which time any live lice would die).
  • Check other members of your household for lice and, if present, treat the family members.
Remember that live lice cannot live more than 24 to 48 hours off the head, so extraordinary cleaning measures are usually not necessary. It is better to spend the time properly treating the child with head lice.

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Topic: Health & Safety
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