For school-age children, there's a certain fear and stigma attached to having lice that makes the discomfort that much worse. The head-lice problem is real: It affects millions of people each year, according to the American Academy of Dermatology (AAD). These infestations, known as pediculosis, are especially common in schools. While head lice don't usually spread disease, they make the scalp extremely itchy, and scratching can leave sores and lead to infection. To help keep your child and family safe, use these tips to learn how to avoid lice and treat an infestation if necessary.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), adult head lice grow to about two to three millimeters long and infest a person's head and neck by attaching their eggs, or nits, to the scalp at the beginning of the hair follicle. Lice move by crawling and do not hop or fly, and they are most commonly spread through close contact between people.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration recommends that you part the hair in many places using a fine-toothed comb or lice comb to check for lice and nits. Head lice might resemble dandruff, but the key difference is that dandruff flakes off easily, while a nit holds tight.
You can treat head lice by using either over-the-counter or prescription-grade lice shampoos. However, The National Pediculosis Association reports that lice shampoos are not for everyone, because the chemicals used could cause harmful side effects. Also, certain head lice are resistant to lice shampoos.
The AAD recommends using a nit-removal or lice comb, whether you treat with lice shampoo or not. These types of combs have teeth that are close together, which is better for removing lice and their nits.
Prevention is the best policy when it comes to knowing how to avoid lice, so stay vigilant. If you have a school-age child, teach him or her how to avoid head-to-head contact and to never share items that touch the head of another child at school. This includes brushes, combs, hair accessories, hats, and even earbuds, all of which are prime lice-transmitting objects. If your child must be around someone with head lice, underline the importance of not touching any of the same objects, including furniture, pillows, and rugs.
If a head-lice breakout occurs at your child's school, reinforce these instructions, and check all household items, clothes, and book bags. Laundering, dry-cleaning, and sealing items in a plastic bag for two weeks are all effective methods of removing lice from objects, according to the CDC.
How Worried Should You Be?
While head lice are more of a nuisance than an outright danger, you want to do what you can to keep them out of your home. If you have a child in elementary or middle school, be aware of any head-lice outbreaks that occur at school to ensure you catch and treat an infestation early on. By using the tips and treatments outlined here, you should be able to handle lice before they get out of hand.