by Dr. Michele Salassi
Head lice are a common problem in school-aged children. They are spread by direct head-to-head contact, although sometimes they can be spread by sharing brushes or hats. Lice are not a sign of poor hygiene, and they do not spread any diseases. They are just a nuisance. Fortunately, treatments are readily available.
What should I do if my child has lice?
First, make sure of the diagnosis with someone experienced with lice, like a school nurse or the child’s pediatrician. Many times, dandruff, hairspray, scabs, dirt or other insects are mistaken to be lice, eggs, or nits, which are the empty egg cases left on the hair shaft after lice hatch.
Once the diagnosis is made, over-the-counter (OTC) medications, including permethrin or pyrethrins, are a reasonable low-cost first choice. Several prescription medications are also available. These are some treatment safety guidelines for medication use:
What other treatments are available?
Manual removal of nits, or “nit-picking,” with a fine-tooth comb is often not effective alone to get rid of lice. It is also not necessary to prevent the spread of lice, but it can decrease confusion about diagnosis and social stigmatization. Alternative and home remedies, such as essential oils or occlusive agents like olive oil, have not been proven to be effective. Before using these therapies, discuss them with your child’s pediatrician.
How can I prevent the spread of lice at home?
All household members should be checked for head lice and treated if needed. Anyone who shares a bed with the affected person should also be treated. Although lice only survive 1-2 days without a human host, it is prudent to take some simple steps to clean the home environment. Clean hair care items and bedding used within the last 2 days by the person with lice. Wash clothing and bedding in hot water (at least 130 degrees Fahrenheit) and dry on high heat. Soak brushes and combs in hot water (at least 130 degrees Fahrenheit) for 5 to 10 minutes. Alternatively, items can be stored in a plastic bag for two weeks. Furniture, carpet, and other fabrics should be vacuumed.
For more information, check out the CDC’s website on lice and the American Academy of Pediatrics’ website for parents.
About Dr. Salassi
Michele Salassi, MD, FAAP received her medical degree from Louisiana State University School of Medicine in New Orleans, LA. She also completed her residency in Internal Medicine and Pediatrics at Louisiana State University Health Sciences Center in New Orleans, LA. Dr. Salassi is a member of the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American College of Physicians, and the Louisiana State Medical Society. She treats common disorders of the cardiovascular, respiratory, gastrointestinal and reproductive systems including diabetes, hypertension, hyperlipidemia, asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and chronic kidney disease. Dr. Salassi also performs routine childhood and adolescent health exams. Click here to make an appointment online with Dr. Salassi.