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Head Lice

Tips on lice treatment and removal

The day a child comes home complaining about an itchy head can be a parent's worst nightmare! Head lice, or nits, are a normal part of childhood, but that doesn't mean they're not worrisome for parent and child. Thankfully, these little critters are easy to treat and get rid of, and with careful precautions, they won't spread to you or any other children, either.

Recognizing Head Lice

Head lice are grey, white, tan or yellow ovals that can be seen on the hair shafts of the person afflicted. They stick close to the hairline and scalp, where they lay eggs. Lice eggs look like grains of sand on the person's head, and like grains of sand, they can be hard to see. Although they usually hatch within 10 days, they can live up to 30 days on a person's hair.

Like rotavirus, head lice is an extremely common childhood ailment often associated with daycare or the early school years. Lice spread when children use each other's hats, combs, brushes or headphones. Contrary to popular belief, lice do not jump from head to head, but they do crawl quickly, so if your child's head is in close contact with someone else's, then lice can crawl from one hair shaft to another.

If your child has head lice, he or she may complain about an itchy head, but a child can have lice with no symptoms at all. If you suspect your child has head lice, check his or her head right away, then again after one week.

Hair lice myths abound in our culture, especially the one that says that people who get lice aren't clean or are exposed to disease. Lice neither carry disease nor spread it, and they live in dirty and clean hair alike. In fact, head lice are so common that most schools have abandoned the no-nit policies of the '70s and '80s. As long as lice are treated, there's no reason why your child should not attend school.

Head Lice Treatment

If your child shows signs of head lice, you can get an over-the-counter treatment from your local pharmacist. Likely, they will give you lice shampoo, which is used like regular shampoo but has special ingredients that will kill the lice. It is safe for use on your child, but be sure to follow the directions on the box. Sometimes, you may need two or three treatments for successful lice removal, so be patient if treatment doesn't work the first time.

Once you've washed your child's hair with the lice shampoo, you will then have to use a fine-tooth comb to carefully comb the dead lice out of your child's hair. If your child has very thick, curly hair, you may want to cut it or shave your child's head to make this process easier, but it's not required.

Natural lice treatments, like mayonnaise and olive oil, may make it hard for the lice to breathe, but likely won't kill them. To ensure complete eradication, you'll likely want to use lice shampoo.

Of course, prevention is always the best course of action. You can prevent lice by making sure that your child doesn't share hairbrushes, hats and headphones with other children.

Lice aren't hard to treat, and they certainly aren't a big deal, but they can be annoying. Make sure you knock the nits out as soon as possible and prevent further lice infestations by using the proper precautions.

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