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How the heck do I check for head lice?

So you receive a text from a friend who’s found head lice on her daughter, and your daughter had a sleepover with this friend’s daughter just the week before.  Or you get a notice home from your son’s school that head lice has been found in the class and you’re requested to head check your child for head lice

Now what?

Your first response (and this really is frequently the first response) is to start scratching your head.  Then you call out to your child, “Is your head itching?”

You’re willing to take a look but what do head lice look like?  You check on the web and there they are – giant magnified images that look like something out of a bad science fiction movie.

You head to the bathroom and have your child put her head over the sink.  You part her hair and don’t see anything – well except maybe some flakes and some glitter.  Yes, you’re sure she’s just not rinsing the shampoo out of her hair well enough but … they’re not moving off the hair easily …

Hmmm . . .

And, how would you even begin to try and check yourself?  (We always get a chuckle out of the moms telling us about their husbands’ efforts at head checking their wives.)

You can check for head lice.  We know it.

What you need:

  • Good light (natural light, if possible – outdoors, close to a window or the best light you can find in your home otherwise)
  • A magnifying glass, magnifying/reading glasses and/or a microscope (and yes, your son’s toy one might even do the trick)
  • A comb or brush to completely detangle the hair and a comb to section the hair for those with very thick and/or long hair (and in this case, some clips might be helpful too to hold the hair up in sections)
  • A premier head lice comb.  This IS NOT a plastic comb that comes in with some of the over the counter kits and it is not even the two sided red-handled metal comb that is sold separately by one of the manufacturers of the kits.  You need a stainless steel head lice comb (and as I say to all our clients, anyone with children should have one or two of these in their home anyway. I liken it to having a plunger because you really never know when you’re going to need it.)
  • A spray bottle of water (or in the case of an individual with thick, long, easy to tangle or curly hair, a bit of any type of conditioner diluted heavily in the spray bottle with water.)

How to head check:

  • Go to a well lit area in or outside your home.
  • Use your comb or brush to completely detangle the hair.
  • Then, move (section/part) your child’s hair and using the magnifying glasses or similar, look at the areas we like to call the “hot spots” – behind the ears, at the nape of the neck, above the forehead and at the crown (warm areas on the head where fertilized female head lice like to lay their eggs).  Look for tiny poppy-seed sized eggs, stuck to the hair shaft (meaning you’d need to use your fingernails to loosen them) and generally close to the scalp.  They’re usually in quarter-sized clusters.  They can be dark in color or light in color but in general, viable nits are plump and darkish (especially on dark hair.)  I’ve had clients tell me they resemble chubby commas printed in a small font.  If you can dislodge something on the hair shaft or scalp with a flick of the finger(nail) or by blowing on it, it’s NOT a head lice nit.
  • If you’ve found nothing, spray the hair with the water or a combination of water and diluted conditioner.  Don’t get it to the dripping stage; just make it wet enough.  Detangle again with a standard comb or brush to remove all knots.
  • With the premier head lice comb, start combing – from the scalp to the ends of the hair.  The individual being combed should “feel it”.  After three or four swipes through the hair with the lice comb, wipe the comb (front and back) on a piece of white paper towel or a white tissue.  Bugs and nits will be evident.  Be methodical.  Continue doing this, multi-directionally (nits can be anywhere on the hair shaft so you need to comb from underneath and from the sides) until you’ve lice combed the entire head.   With long/thick hair, you might want to use clips or barrettes to separate areas you’ve already lice combed from areas you’ve not.
  • If you perform a thorough lice combing on the entire head and find nothing, it’s highly unlikely that a case of head lice is present.
  • If you pull bugs (either adult lice or maturing nymphs), they will be crawling a bit on the piece of paper towel/tissue. (If they have wings, they’re not head lice.  We’ve had lots of clients come in with gnats lately.)  If you’re considering using a professional service for removal, put the evidence in a Ziploc bag or container for inspection.  After you pull a couple of bugs, there’s no need to continue with the head check.  The individual needs to be treated.
  • If you pull nits (which again, are poppy seed in size and generally somewhat dark if they’re viable), and again are considering using a professional for removal, place the related tissue/paper towel in a Ziploc bag and if it’s several nits, you can stop the head check as the individual needs to be treated.  If you find only a nit or two in combing the entire head and no bugs, it’s highly unlikely that the person has a then active case of head lice and we’d recommend just a nightly head lice combing for two weeks (using the diluted conditioner referred to above only.)

This can be time consuming but it’s not impossible.  If it’s for your child, sit him/her in front of the television and try to put on something that will capture his/her attention.

Alternately, and if you’re still not sure after all of the above, you can always come to Elimilice for a comprehensive head check at a fee of $10 to $20, contingent upon the length of the checked person’s hair.  (For the record,  many parents tell us their children are much  more cooperative for the Elimilice technicians and because we do hundreds of head checks weekly in each facility, we’re quite adept at moving through the head checks efficiently.)

Contact us for information on treatment – either by Elimilice in one treatment or via  your efforts but with the right head lice removal product and methods.  We have recently experienced a huge increase in the number of families coming to us for guidance and EFFECTIVE head lice removal products.   Please do not hesitate to contact us.