The Truth About Lice

Treating your hair once you discover you have lice.

Lice. They make my head itch just thinking about it. But unfortunately they exist.

I’ll never forget the first time I discovered lice on my then 4 year old. It was paralyzing. I had never dealt with it in my life let alone when I had four girls two with really long hair. My house was turned upside down for a week. Toss in a divorce situation and that makes two households having to undergo what felt like a major detox doing load after load of laundry, after combing through and combing through hair treatment after treatment, I called in some reinforcements that worked between my and my ex husbands house until the situation was resolved and my kids missed school days because of it.

So when about a week ago, they surfaced again I was in shock. How could this happen when the kids aren’t even in school? Truth is it can happen anytime, anywhere. When you begin to really see all the products available guaranteeing that you’ll rid your child (and in some cases yourself) of lice you could spend hundreds of dollars and hours and hours of time disinfecting your house just to see the eggs (nitts) hatch again! So I spoke with a Money Crashers Medical and Lice Expert David Bakke who responded to a few of my questions about these pesky, annoying little bugs.

What causes lice in the first place? Head lice are living organisms that live on human beings. A person is infected with lice when the lice infiltrate the scalp (having arrived from another human being) and begin to lay eggs.

Do you know when the most likely time is for kids to get lice – fall, summer, during school year or just anytime? Children are more prone to contract lice when they are in close contact with other kids, usually in the autumn and winter. However, it is possible to get lice at any point in time during the year.

With the school year starting do you recommend all parents use lice preventative shampoo or wait until you hear of a lice outbreak? What about the preventative sprays? Preventative shampoos have become quite popular, but unfortunately there is little to no scientific research to back up the claims that they can prevent lice. The same thing goes for the sprays – there may be anecdotal evidence, but nothing that is commonly accepted in the general medical community.

What can parents do to prevent lice? One of the biggest factors in contracting lice is coming in close contact with others, so in that respect parents are limited in what they can do to prevent it. However, if head-to-head contact can be curtailed or even eliminated (hugging or telling secrets, for example) the risk can be reduced. Parents should also advise children against the sharing of any personal hygiene items such as combs and hairbrushes or even hats and scarves. Kids should bring their own sleeping bag and pillow for any sleepovers, and if possible, parents should encourage their children to keep their outerwear separate from their classmates in the coatroom at school.

 Is it true that lice are becoming immune to certain types of treatments and preventative shampoos? It is true that lice have become immune to certain types of shampoos and other treatments. This was primarily caused by the heavy use of antibiotics to treat lice, so the lice naturally developed resistance to them. But this should be no cause for alarm. Lice are an extreme annoyance, but pose no serious health risk. There are still plenty of effective treatments for lice – it just may take some time before the right one is located.

Some people say wash everything if your child has lice, some say lice can’t survive without a head for more than 24 hours. You do not have to wash everything if your child has lice – lice cannot survive away from a scalp for more than 24 hours.

What steps would you suggest parents take immediately upon seeing a live bug in a child’s hair? As soon as lice is noticed, purchase an over-the-counter medicine, either a spray or shampoo. All household members should be checked for lice so there is no cross-infestation after treatment has begun on the first one infected. Be sure to follow all instructions on the medicine, and never treat the child with more than one at a time. All bedding and clothing should be washed immediately.

Would you say that all parents should talk to children about sharing hats, brushes and hugging other children? Absolutely. This is key to prevent the spread of lice.

Do you think hugging is a source for kids transferring lice to each other?  Or what could I be missing? Hugging is a way in which lice can be spread. It should be limited if not eliminated, unfortunately.

Is it true that lice are attracted to clean heads? What else could they be attracted to? Lice are attracted to clean heads. They are also attracted to warmth and skin.

Should kids who have frequent cases of lice get short haircuts? Or does that even help? Yes, cutting hair can reduce the chance of contracting lice because it makes it less likely that the lice will pass between another child and yours.

What tools/products do you recommend? An over-the-counter shampoo should suffice, although you may have to try out one or two different kinds until you find one that works for you. If conditions persist for more than one week, consult your primary care physician.

What do you think about the services that come to your home to comb out the hair? Unless you’re incredibly pressed for time this really isn’t necessary. Plus, you run the risk of alienating your child by letting a stranger comb through their hair – and they may think they have something that’s more serious than it is.

My kids know that lice is normal, and I’m still trying to get them into the habit of doing things like keeping hats in the sleeve of their own coat, and putting some space between themselves and other kids. They know mom treats lice aggressively, taking stuffed animals and sealing them in bags for weeks until I’m sure everything is gone, treating their hair and working with the school nurse to make sure they aren’t brining it into school or around their friends. If you’ve never had to experience lice, I’m so happy for you. But for those of us who have, I hope this information helps as we start new school year – germs, bugs and all!

Christine Bachman

About Christine Bachman

Christine Bachman is founder and president of Plan It PR, a public relations and marketing firm. The mother of five shares tips and survival stories in “Play Dates and Power Lunches.” Ms. Bachman started working public relations after a long career in broadcast journalism, which included work as a television anchor, reporter and producer.