“Lice” is not a word people like to hear. It’s embarrassing. And, exhausting when you think about all the upcoming work you will need to do.
But, lice happens.
And it happens to lots of different people, for lots of different reasons. It’s not because your house or kids are dirty. It’s not a reflection of bad parenting. Lice are just tiny, annoying, itchy, hungry little bugs that get around.
If it happens to you, get informed, and come up with an action plan.
If your kids are school age, they will not be allowed in school until they are ‘nit-free’, so you will need to work with and communicate with, the school nurse.
Here’s some info on head lice, from the CDC:
Adult head lice are about 2-3 mm long – very tiny. They infest the head and neck. They cannot hop or fly, only crawl. They feed on human blood, and will not survive more than 1-2 days if they fall off the scalp.
Their eggs, also know as nits, are even smaller – practically microscopic – and they attach them to the base of the hair shaft (right near the scalp – about ¼ inch away).
Lice are spread most commonly by person-to-person, direct contact with the hair of an infested person. Pets do not spread head lice; head lice do not live on pets.
Head lice survive less than 1–2 days if they fall off a person and cannot feed; nits cannot hatch and usually die within a week if they are not kept at the same temperature as that found close to the human scalp.
We had head lice.
I was sitting on our sofa, with son #2 on my lap. My head was a little itchy behind the ears, but, hey, that happens all the time, so I didn’t think anything of it. I was playing with my son’s soft, curly, blonde hair when I noticed something on my finger. And then. It moved.
My mom-alarms went off, red flags shooting up all over the place.
Uh. There should not be anything moving in my kids hair!
I looked closely at it, and it was a very, very small, very, very pale, bug-looking thing.
I immediately set my son down, and got online – searching for what ‘lice’ looked like. Yup. It was head lice.
Panic set in. What does this mean? Where did they come from? How did he get them? What do I do?
I called my neighbor, a friend of ours for years, who is a school nurse.
She said to calm down. Kids get lice sometimes. We were lucky, as school had just ended and summer vacation had started. She told me to get a pen and paper, and this is what I would need to do:
- Restrict interaction between my kids and other kids – no playdates or sleepovers until lice were gone. No spreading the lice. Be prepared to spend the next few weeks mostly at home.
- Go to the store and get an over-the-counter head lice treatment shampoo, and a set of fine-tooth lice/nit combs. Also needed: a strong, bright light, scotch tape, bamboo skewers, and trash bags.
- Immediately go through each of my 4 kid’s hair with lice combs, and see who had lice. And then check myself and Dad.
- To check their hair, set up a chair in the kitchen, and working under a bright light, run the lice combs through their hair, from scalp to the ends of the hair. If I found anything on the comb, I was to put it on a piece of scotch tape, to trap the lice and keep them securely contained. (I couldn’t figure out how to check my own hair – I finally figure out that if I kneeled and hung my head down over and into the bathtub, I could use the lice comb on my own hair; any bugs the comb caught would then fall into the tub.)
- Each person that had lice in their hair was to have their hair shampooed with the lice treatment shampoo, as soon as possible. Before using the lice treatment, be sure to carefully read the instructions on what ages you can use it on, what amount you should use, how long the medicine should be left on the hair, how it should be washed out, and how long you should wait before you can wash your hair again with regular shampoo. If the lice treatment does not seem to kill the lice, do not use it again – call your pediatrician / health care provider.
- Every day, twice a day, each person was to have their hair combed out and checked for lice. You will need to do this for 2-3 weeks, until all lice and nits are gone. All bugs and nits/eggs were to be removed and placed on scotch tape, then securely disposed of. A tedious process, depending on the length of hair. With 4 kids, it took me around 2 hours. You may find using a bamboo skewer helpful to section and lift the hair; use 1 per person, then discard.
- All bedding, and towels, were to be gathered and washed in hot water, and dried on high heat. According to the CDC: “Hats, scarves, pillow cases, bedding, clothing, and towels worn or used by the infested person in the 2-day period just before treatment is started can be machine washed and dried using the hot water and hot air cycles because lice and eggs are killed by exposure for 5 minutes to temperatures greater than 53.5°C (128.3°F). Anything that has been in contact with the head of an infested person within the last 48 hours should be washed/bagged.”
- All stuffed animals, and extra bedding were to be gathered and bagged in trash bags and then sealed. The bags were to be set aside for at least 3 weeks. If they had a favorite stuffed animal – that they couldn’t live without – it was to be bagged and placed in the freezer for 3 days.
- All pillows were to be put in plastic bags and placed in the freezer for 3 days.
- All rugs, floors, sofas/chairs were to be vacuumed. Sheets were to be placed covering the sofas, that could be washed daily in hot water. (Note: never use fumigant sprays/fogs – they are not necessary, and potentially hazardous to your family.)
- All hairbrushes / combs were to be soaked in hot water for at least 10 minutes.
- If desired, cut your kids hair shorter. I have a haircut kit, with scissors and an electric hair trimmer. I cut all 3 of my boys hair short – just longer than a buzz cut; and trimmed my daughter’s hair to just below her chin. It worked out great, as it was summer anyway.
As it turned out, I also had lice, which totally creeped me out. I have long hair – past my shoulders, and I didn’t want to cut it. I used the lice treatment shampoo, but it is not recommended to use it more than once due to the chemicals. I got a couple of plastic shower caps, and slathered mayonnaise on my hair, then tucked it up into a shower cap. Warning – as the day goes on, the mayo gets warm and will start to drip around the edges. I did this for a few days straight, washing the mayo out of my hair right before bedtime. (Side bonus: my hair actually looked more luxurious…)
Warning: Under no circumstances should you EVER use mayo and a plastic bag on a kid’s head and then put them to bed. These parents found out the hard way, when their toddler died – but, seriously – plastic bags and toddlers are always a potentially lethal combination. Don’t do it. Ever.
I eventually figured out where we got lice from – I think. About a week before, my son’s 1st grade class had had an end-of-year sleepover at the school. He had slept on the classroom floor with his pillow and sleeping bag. Apparently, he came home with some uninvited guests.
That month we spent a lot of quality family time, going to parks and playgrounds and playing outside. On rainy days, we played videogames together, read books together, watched movies/TV, or did crafts.
It was kind of nice have all the stuffed animals and extra bedding packed away.
It was time consuming combing through each kid’s hair.
But we got through it. And soon, it was all behind us.
So – you’ve got lice? Don’t despair. Calm down and make a plan. It’s a bit of work, but you’ll get through it.
Although. My head itches, just thinking about it…
For more info, and pictures:
Has your family ever experienced head lice? What did you do? How did you get through it? What would you tell someone who just found out?