Sooner or later, most parents will receive the dreaded email from school administrators: A student in your child’s class has been found to have lice…
What typically comes next is a combination of alarm and, well, disgust—no one wants to think about their child’s hair being infested with little bugs. The good news, though, is that a lot of what we think we know about lice turns out not to be true.
“Lice don’t transmit any disease or sickness,” says Lynne Karlson, MD, chief of General Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine at Floating Hospital. So while it was common a generation ago for children to be kept out of school for lice, today both the American Academy of Pediatrics and the National Association of School Nurses believe that kids should not miss class because of the bugs.
So what should you do if there’s a report of lice at your child’s school? Karlson says the first thing is to remind kids to avoid sharing hats or touching heads, which can sometimes happen when kids are working together at a desk. “Lice don’t fly, and they don’t jump, they just crawl,” Karlson says. “That means avoiding contact with someone who has them can help prevent the spread.”
At home, parents should check their kids’ hair for lice by having them sit in a chair in a brightly lit room. You want to check small clumps of hair at a time, looking for white or yellow eggs, called nits, at the hair line. “It’s unusual to actually see a louse, you usually will just see the nits,” Karlson says. Pay special attention to the scalp and around the ears, which is also where some children who have lice will experience itching.
If you find any nits, Karlson recommends two over-the-counter hair treatments, Permethrin and Pyrethrin. After using the treatment, try to remove the nits by combing the hair. If parents would prefer not to use a medication for treating head lice, there are natural alternatives though Karlson cautions they are very time consuming as all nits need to be removed. One alternative Karlson suggests includes rinsing the hair with a solution of vinegar and water (which loosens the nits) and completing with a thorough fine-tooth comb out.
Karlson says that the most important things for parents to remember is that even if your child does get lice, it poses very little threat. “It’s more of an ‘ick’ factor that creates such a strong reaction in people.”