Head lice. Prevent it. Treat it. Or blow up your house and start over

A Parents Survival Guide to Head Lice

It's been about six years since our family dealt with the worst head lice outbreak ever. My adorable daughter with her flowing brown locks picked up head lice from either the jerk kid who also threw up on her in Kindergarten, or from the big comfy couch in the classroom that the kids liked to snuggle up on at reading time. Whichever, I don't care, we were infested.
She brought it home, shared it with her brothers and then continued to swap it with her friends
THE WHOLE SCHOOL YEAR. Six years later, I am only now able to talk about it. I think back on that time and cringe. Which is why I want to offer you the parent's survival guide to head lice.
school, elementary school, school age children, lice prevention
First off, let me start by saying that if your child gets head lice it isn't because they are dirty or that your house is unclean.  Dr. Hannah Chow Johnson at Loyola University confirms that head lice is actually attracted to clean shiny hair. So bonus points for you and your clean headed children.
Head lice are easy for kids to get because they are in such close contact with other kids. Kids hug with their whole body and typically put their heads together when they do. They share combs and hats and dress up clothes. Kids snuggle in with stuffed animals and flop around on bean bags and chairs and car seats. All these places are hidden spots for head lice and your child's head is the perfect breeding ground for them.
As a parent, let me tell you, it is far better if you find those little nits or lice in your child's head before the school nurse does. Every school has a different policy, but our school's policy at the time was that a child that was found infected could not return to the classroom until they were nit free.
My daughter was out of school for weeks because we couldn't seem to get the outbreak under control no matter what we did. It was a ridiculous policy because there were no bugs, only nits {like a handful if that!} and if you know anything about nit's its that they are glued on to the hair shaft and they aren't going anywhere. That is, until they hatch.

What it looks like

Kids with head lice will typically be scratching their heads more than normal. You will find small red bumps {bite marks} on the nape of their neck and by their ears. And sometimes you can feel crawling on your head.

Here is what we did

Every night we would wash our daughter's hair and every week we would use an over the counter lice treatment. Once she was out of the bath, my husband would read a book to the kids while I took a fine tooth comb and literally combed through every.single.strand of her head.
If I found a nit {a small white egg}, I would cut it out of her hair at the scalp {believe me, we thought about shaving her head!} along with the handful of strands next to that were next to the nit.
If we found a live bug, we would squish it and dispose of it.
The strands were discarded into a plastic bag that would be tied up and thrown away at the end of the evening.  The process of combing and cutting would take around an hour each night.
We did that for THREE months!
After we combed her hair, we would try whatever witch doctor treatment I read about that week.
We doused her hair with Scope, dish detergent, mayonnaise, olive oil {individually, never together}
and then put a shower cap on her head to sleep with.
In the mornings, I would strip her sheets and take her used towels and clothes
{every.single.day for 6 months} and wash them on hot.
All of her stuffed animals were stored in a plastic garbage bag until she was cleared of lice.
I also had a lice spray that I would use on her car seat and on the one spot on the couch she was allowed to sit. That child had the plague in our house as far as I was concerned.
You would think that with all of these treatments we would have gotten rid of the lice or prevented them from spreading but alas, they did not. One parent can only do so much, so if your child's fellow students are in class and their parents aren't as dedicated to lice removal as you are, then there becomes a lice epidemic.
And a child who has recently had lice is the most susceptible to getting it again within the first 6 months.

What worked

Here is what finally worked for us. Nightly treatments with lice shampoo for three weeks straight.
Most over the counter treatments say to use them every 7-10 days. Sorry, that just didn't work for us.
We were not taking any chances, so we used it every single day.
It just takes a few nits to create another outbreak. Nits can live on your head for up to two weeks before hatching, so we would treat, and then comb the hair out looking for bugs and nits.
I was checking that girls head obsessively like a monkey.
Again, we would dispose of them each night as explained above and I was still washing her sheets, clothes and towels on high every day. I would vacuum everything with an obsession. The couches, the car seats, the floor, everything.
I bought a bottle of tea tree oil and massaged it into her hair every morning because lice don't like the smell. Then we treated everyone in the house even if they didn't show any signs.

If you live in an area that has a lice treatment facility go there.

I'm cheap, but there is no price for your sanity and the time that you will spend on your own trying to get rid of head lice. I had no idea such a place even existed until my nieces came home from school with lice. It's worth it. Seriously.
Even if it costs you every penny you have in your IRA, it's still worth it.

Prevent it

My heart still drops into my stomach when my kids come home with a letter from the school saying that someone in their class has been found to have lice. I don't wish head lice on even my worst enemy.
I still have tea tree oil on hand and start dropping that on the kids if I hear that lice is going around.
Make sure your kids don't share helmets or hats or combs. And then say a prayer over your whole family that no one starts itching their heads or this whole lovely process starts all over again.
My head is starting to itch just thinking about it.
If you find yourself on the other end of a phone call home from the school nurse telling you that your child has lice, take a deep breath, and then Google head lice treatment facilities and book the first appointment that they have.
If you think you want to try treating it on your own, be consistent. And don't stop even when you think you are in the clear.
Do you have any other tips to share?
Not for me because if we get head lice in our house again, everyone is shaving their heads and we are blowing up the house and moving to a different state.


Crystal K. said...

It went through our whole 6 person household a few years back. It was horrible. We tried many different treatments including the standard ones. In the end the boys cut their hair short. The girls all did the mayo hair masks. That's what really did it. We left it on for over an hour (can't recall exactly how long). I also switched to a tea tree oil shampoo.

Unknown said...

Been through about the same hair raising horror and found after using the treatment, washing then drying hair -using a hot brush - straightener kills the nits .. so far all clear yet feel the same as you ... shaving the hair as it was a nightmare! Glad all clear your side x

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Anonymous said...

Great post. I'm facing a couple of these problems.

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