As a mother of four school-age children, a notice from the school nurse that lice is in a classroom fills me with angst: the hair treatments, the laundry, the other children! Then the pediatrician side of me calms me down. Lice will not hurt my family. They are annoying bugs and getting rid of them can be a nuisance, but soon they will be a thing of the past.

Why my child?

Lice are tiny insects (2-3mm long) that are very contagious, both through direct head-to-head contact and sometimes indirectly by sharing hats, combs, etc. Because lice are small, they can be hard to find unless you really are looking for them. The most obvious sign of head lice is an itchy scalp, although it can take a few weeks of lice being present before the itching begins.

Now what?

Now that you know someone in your family has lice, let’s treat it. The most common treatment is over-the-counter creams/lotions/shampoos. It is important to use them as directed. Most of the OTC treatments will need to be repeated in about 10 days. If your child still has head lice after two OTC treatments, contact your doctor. There are also prescription medications for lice treatment.

Monitor your other children for signs of head lice.

Perform head checks on your other children and even yourself! Nits (lice eggs) are small white or yellow-brown specks that are firmly attached to the hair within about a 1 cm of the scalp.  They can be distinguished from eczema or dandruff because dandruff and eczema can easily be moved. Examine the hair in small sections at a time, paying particular attention to around the ears and the back of the neck. Consider doing regular lice checks on your children during the school year.

Laundry

No need to throw away any beloved stuffed animals. Wash your child’s sheets, clothing, hats, stuffed animals — any items worn within the past 3 days — in hot water in the washing machine and dry on the high heat setting to kill any remaining lice. If items cannot be washed, they can be dry cleaned or placed in a sealed bag for two weeks.