Thursday, April 10, 2014

Not the Dreaded L-Word!

If you follow my Facebook page you know that the beginning of this week was challenging to say the least. Tuesday morning my 7 and 8 year-old children woke up with itchy heads. When I took a closer look my fears were confirmed - LICE! Up to that point, I knew very little about lice, nits, whatever you want to call them. I know a lot more about the little buggers now and I'm glad I do. Not only did I find out the most effective way of getting rid of them, I learned how to help keep them at bay.

"Lice" is plural for "louse". According to, a louse is;

noun, plural lice  [lahys]  Show IPA for 1–3, lous·es for 4.
any small, wingless insect of the order Anoplura (suckinglouse)  parasitic on humans and other mammals and havingmouthparts adapted for sucking, as Pediculus humanus (bodylouse or head louse)  and Phthirius pubis (crab louse orpubic louse)

I know what you're thinking; "Lice are bugs, bugs are dirty. That Silence of the Mom must have a dirty family who never bathes or washes their hair!" I thought the same thing. Turns out that is actually far from the truth. Let me preface this by saying that lice aren't too particular, they will get their meals from whomever they can. That said, they prefer clean hair. Why? Because it is easier for them and their eggs, or nits, to grip to.

Like many first-timers dealing with lice, I ran to CVS and picked up a couple packages of over-the-counter medicated shampoos. Nix and RID are two popular ones and were both recommended by the pharmacist. I had heard of various home remedies, and I wasn't thrilled about putting those chemicals on my kids, but I didn't want to take the chance of the lice spreading any more than they already had. I have a 13 month-old and I certainly didn't want her getting them!

As soon as we got home, I followed the step-by-step instructions on the leaflet and swiftly had both kids marinading for the 10 minutes (no more, no less) that was instructed. After the timer went off and we rinsed out the gunk, I combed through their hair. It took 2 1/2 hours to comb through my daughter's hair which is incredibly thick! I expected to find a bunch of dead bugs. No such luck. Every one I found was still alive. I couldn't believe it. $20 for the recommended lice treatment and it didn't work.

After numerous treatment suggestions on my Facebook posts - everything from mayonnaise to mouthwash - I started to look into other options. I did my best to wade through all the possible treatments and advise, but started to feel extremely overwhelmed. Below is a list of things I discovered from treatment to prevention and everything in between.

**Please note, I am not a medical expert and am not telling you how to treat lice. What worked for me may not work for you. All I am doing is sharing what I found out during my family's itchy journey with lice.**
  • Expensive over-the-counter treatments don't kill live bugs. Apparently they have built up some sort of immunity to them. I won't bother wasting my time or money on those again, not to mention exposing my family to those chemicals.
  • Listerine, the original gold one, will kill every last one of those little a-holes. I didn't believe it at first, but it worked. Saturate hair with it, wrap head in plastic or put on a shower cap and leave on for at least an hour - more if possible. Rinse out in the shower and comb through hair with a nit comb. You will be amazed at the number of dead bugs you pull out.
  • You must invest in a nit comb. This is the most time consuming effective way of finding and picking out nits (nits are what we call the eggs). If you have long hair, clip it up into 4 sections and work your way through from the top to the bottom of your head, combing 1-2 inch sections at a time. Make sure you clean the comb as you go with a tissue or dip the comb in boiling water between each section. If you do find any eggs or live bugs, place the tissue in a plastic bag that can be sealed and start with a fresh tissue. 
  • Be sure to soak combs for 15 minutes in extremely hot water between each person or purchase everyone in the house their own comb.
  • Tea tree oil is to lice what kryptonite is to Superman. They hate it. Not only does it kill them it also deters them from coming back. 
  • Use shampoo and conditioner with tea tree oil in the ingredients or put a few drops in whatever brand you already have on hand. (If you add to your own shampoo, be sure to shake the bottle before using it.)
  • Coconut is also said to ward off lice. Shampoos/conditioners with that listed as the second ingredient may be more pleasing if you don't care for the smell of tea tree oil.
  • Combine 6 drops tea tree oil and 8 oz water in a spray bottle and mist your kid's hair before they go to school. You can also spray backpacks, caps, jackets etc. (Tea tree oil has a strong, unique smell. You can mask it by adding essential oils such as lavender or Eucalyptus.) 
  • If you have children with hair that is long enough to tie back, do so every morning before school, especially if you know lice is going around. 
  • You can spray a light mist of hairspray over the head. Lice don't like it. Use gel or mousse in short hair.
  • Blow-dry hair on high heat if you can handle it, or use a flat iron to run over hair. The heat kills the bugs and nits.
  • Lice don't fly or jump from person to person. They crawl from direct contact. Be sure your kids aren't sharing headphones, hats, scarves, hair brushes, pillows or anything else that touches their heads with anyone. (I just learned that my kids use headphones in computer lab - guess who will be taking their own headphones form now on?)
  • My research resulted in different opinions on the length of time a louse can live without a host body. I read anywhere from a few hours to 2 days. Eggs can apparently live for up to 10 days but they won't hatch at room temperature. Having said that, it is not necessary to bleach every inch of your home.
  • Wash all bed linens, blankets, stuffed animals etc in hot wash and tumble dry on high setting. 140 degree F will kill lice and nits.
  • Tumble dry pillows for 20 minutes on high heat.
  • Place any items that can't be washed in black garbage bags, tie tightly and leave them for 2 weeks. I would mist a little of the tea tree solution in there if you have it. Don't saturate the items, you don't want them to get moldy. 
  • Lice and nits will die if they freeze so placing smaller items (like the teddy that little Jimmy can't live without) in bags in the freezer overnight will work.
  • Vacuum the house, paying special attention to bedrooms and furniture upholstered in cloth as opposed to leather.
  • Vacuum the car, especially if it has cloth seats. Make sure you hit car seats as well. 
  • Dogs don't get head-lice. You don't have to worry about passing them back and forth between Fido and you.
  • Your children can return to school the following day, provided you treated them and you live in Florida (not sure about other states). You need to have the school nurse check them before they are allowed to return to class.
  • Back in 2010, our wonderful governor decided that children would be fine to attend school as long as their are no "crawling bugs" in their hair. They can have eggs galore, as long as there is no evidence of a live bug. ICK!
There you have it - a few tips and tricks that I picked up this week. I hope you never have to use any of them! Are you itchy yet?

Have you had to deal with lice? What treatment(s) worked for you?

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