home › resource guides › lice
It's estimated that 6 million to 12 million head lice infestations happen annually to children between the ages of 3-11 in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Lice are parasitic insects which may be found on the head, eyelashes, and eyebrows. They live close to the scalp and feed on human blood.
Top 5 Myths about Lice, from Pediatrician Dr. Cara Natterson
- Kids can only catch lice at school.
Not at all true. Schools often perform lice checks, so parents find out about lice infestations through school. But lice are all around us. Anyone can get lice by sharing hair brushes, towels, headbands, hats, earphones -- I have even heard of people getting it from shared pillows or seat headrests.
- Lice can fly.
Again, not true. Lice can only crawl. This is why you pretty much need to be head-to-head with someone (or share things that have been on their head) in order to "catch" lice.
- Lice are a sign of poor hygiene.
Absolutely not. Lice don't seem to care whether your scalp is dirty or clean. So just because you wash your hair (or your child's hair) frequently, you are not immune to lice.
- Lice are treatable.
Yes and no. You can certainly get rid of lice, but topical treatments -- whether they are prescription drugs or herbal remedies -- always need to be used in combination with a thorough comb-out. In order to get rid of lice, all of the eggs laid by the nits need to be combed off the hair shaft. These generally sit about ½ to 1 inch away from the scalp. So no matter what you choose to put onto the hair to help treat the lice, the most important part of the cure is a thorough comb-through -- that means combing every single hair on the head! -- at least once. This can be so time-consuming (and so difficult for certain hair textures) that there are now companies in many cities to provide the service for you.
- Smothering the scalp and hair with Vaseline is a great way to get rid of lice.
If you leave the Vaseline on for hours, this is a good way to suffocate lice (some choose mayonnaise instead). But again, it all comes down to the comb-out. Not to mention that hair coated with Vaseline (or mayonnaise) can look unbelievably greasy for days, and this greasiness is almost impossible to get rid of.
Head lice infestations in the U.S. are much less frequent in African-Americans than in other races, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The claws of the lice in the U.S. may be better at gripping the width and shape of the hair shaft of other races. Head lice are not known to spread disease.
What Moms Can Do about Lice
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved Benzyl Alcohol Lotion, 5%, in April 2009 for the treatment of lice in patients 6 months of age and older -- it is the first head lice product with benzyl alcohol as the active pharmaceutical ingredient to be FDA approved.
"Head lice is a problem that impacts more than 1 million children each year, and is easily transmitted to others," said Janet Woodcock, MD, director of the FDA's Center for Drug Evaluation and Research, in an FDA press release. "This drug is an effective first-line treatment to eliminate lice infestation, and minimize disruption in the daily routines of families."
Common side effects of Benzyl Alcohol Lotion, 5%, are scalp, skin, and eye irritations as well as numbness at the site of application. It is important to use the product as labeled.
Getting rid of lice in a child's hair is a three-step process, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics:
- Kill the lice.
Treatments come in shampoos, gels, cream rinses, and mousse. Apply to dry hair so that the product is not diluted. Keep treatments on hair for as long as the product manufacturer recommends. Lice treatments may not kill all of the eggs. A second treatment is usually necessary about a week after the first.
- Comb out the nits.
Removing the nits can prevent your child from being misdiagnosed with an active case of lice. It also helps protect your child from any eggs that were not killed at first. Many treatment products come with special combs and proper instructions. Continue to check your child's hair for two weeks after treatment. If you still see nits, use a fine-tooth comb or your fingernails to remove them.
- Prevent lice from spreading.
Although it's not necessary to throw away your child's possessions, you will want to do the following: soak combs and brushes in hot water for about 10 minutes, check other members of your family for lice, avoid spraying pesticides in the home and exposing your family to dangerous chemicals, vacuum fabrics and furniture that your child was in contact with 24-48 hours before treatment, wash kids' clothes and linens in hot water and dry on high heat, and bag any stuffed animals or other items you can't wash for two weeks to allow lice to die.
Since lice cannot live off the head for more than 48 hours, it's more important to properly treat your child than to take drastic measures cleaning the house.
Although the "home remedies" such as coating hair with oils or mayonnaise have not been proven to work, moms who prefer to take a more natural approach to lice treatment can find lice salons (such as Hair Fairies) in some cities that are providing non-toxic treatments and comb-outs. There are even companies who will make house calls to check your family and do thorough comb-outs when necessary.
Connect with Other Moms about Lice
Join the conversation:
Related Momlogic Stories on Losing Weight
- They're Letting Kids with Lice Go to School!
- Diary of a Lice Infestation
- Head Lice: The Epidemic Rages
Additional Resources for Lice