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How to Prevent Head Lice

What’s the number one question I hear from clients and those I encounter:

 How do I PREVENT my kids from picking up head lice?

The families we treat don’t want to ever get it again.  The families we head check who have “dodged the bullet” or been successful in their attempts at treating at home and those who just hear what I do for a living all ask that question.

With back to school and this question clearly on the minds of many parents, we were visited this week by a local television reporter who asked for tips on preventing head lice.  Take a few minutes to watch this short feature on 11Alive for some general information.

And here are the specifics with respect to head lice prevention:

General:

  • Don’t share combs or brushes (every person in the family should have his/her own hair “bin” with combs/brushes/ponytail holders/head bands etc.)
  • Don’t share baseball caps/hats/scarves/headsets, if possible.
  • Do not buy into the old wive’s tale that reducing hair washing will minimize the risk of catching a case of head lice (unless your child’s hair gets oily/greasy when dirty.  Most children’s hair just gets stinky and more likely to “catch” debris and produce flakes which can be confused for head lice.  Additionally, especially with younger children, if you’re not washing their hair too frequently, you’re not going to have the opportunity to notice the evidence of head lice.)
  • Watch for scratching.  However, not every itch is head lice but an ongoing (and especially a nocturnal) itch, especially behind the ears, at the base of the hairline at the back of the neck, at the crown of the head and at the top of the forehead can indicate the presence of head lice.  Additionally, not everyone itches, and those who do are usually about 2 ½ to 3 weeks into a case.
  • Head lice can affect any racial/ethnic group – including African Americans.
  • Head lice are generally passed from head to head contact.   Although cleaning the house and car is necessary when someone in the household has a case of head lice, there is no need to dispose of anything or to turn the house over.  Head lice CANNOT live off the human head for more than 24 – 48 hours so without a “meal” (feeding at the head every few hours,) they will become severely weakened and die.  Off the head, head lice nits (eggs) are essentially non-viable and pose no risk (and they do not fall off the hair shaft easily in any event.)  To prevent the spread of head lice, the focus must be on eliminating the head lice from the person(people) with the case(s).
  • Head lice preventive techniques need not be engaged in by parents or caregivers UNLESS a case of head lice is identified in the household or work environment otherwise.  Teachers should definitely utilize head lice prevention techniques.

 Proactive:

Head lice prevention check

Head lice prevention check

  • All children – hair should be sprayed or gel applied every time they are in a social or school setting.  Products should be essential -oil based, pesticide-free and may include mint, lavender, citronella, rosemary, tea tree, neem, pine, cedar, lemongrass and others.  Usage of these oils at full strength is not recommended as they can be drying and irritating.
  • Hair should be up as tightly against the scalp as possible – braid, bun, ponytail with barrettes and other accessories holding flyaways back.
  • As a double “layer of protection,” consideration should be given to using an essential oil based head lice shampoo and/or conditioner when there is a known case in the classroom, in the household, etc.
  • Perform a  thorough head lice combing every 7 days or less with a premier nit comb.  This will pre-empt any full case of head lice because one or two adult bugs and some nits – before they hatch – can be removed with ease (and before hatching lice have an opportunity to travel to other family members or friends.)
    Perform a thorough head lice check after your child has a sleepover, goes to sleepaway camp, etc. and know what you’re looking for.

 Ineffective:

  • Treating when there’s a threat only.  (Proper head checks are the most effective for detecting head lice.  These can be performed at home or via a professional lice service for a nominal fee.  Better to be certain before treating.)
  • Telling children not to hug, not to play together, not to collaborate on projects, etc. at school, etc.  (After performing professional lice services for years now, I’ve concluded that it’s the friendly and social children – and the ones “in everyone’s business” that are the most likely to catch a case of head lice.)

Please contact us if we can be of assistance.