A widespread childhood annoyance, head lice are highly contagious—especially among children in group settings. Fortunately for you and your kids, you can take steps to stop the spread.
Signs and Symptoms
While they pose no direct danger to your child’s health, lice are certainly unwelcome guests. Among the most frequent symptoms of lice infestation are an itchy scalp and the scratching that accompanies it. People affected by head lice may also experience the sensation that something is crawling on their scalp. In some cases, swollen lymph nodes in the neck have even been known to occur.
The bugs themselves are light brown or grey and are about the size of a sesame seed. Nits, or the eggs of the lice, are often easier to spot because they lay close to the scalp, though they can be confused for dandruff due to their light yellow and tan color. Aside from the itching and crawling feeling, the sighting of nits—most easily detected behind the ears and along the neckline—is typically one of the first signs of a lice infestation.
When head lice are discovered, treatment options include a range of over-the-counter (OTC) shampoos, creams and lotions that can be used to kill the bugs and stop the infestation. When using OTC treatments, following dosage guidelines is crucial. Be sure to read and follow the instructions carefully, as some medications may not be appropriate for young children.
If OTC medications prove ineffective, it’s possible that the head lice have developed a resistance to the treatment method used. (Recent research has identified 25 U.S. states—including Georgia—where OTC treatment-resistant lice populations have been found.) In these cases, speak with your child’s pediatrician about other treatment options, which may include prescription medications.
To avoid head lice, consider these tips:
- Don’t Share Hair Accessories—This could include anything from brushes and combs to hats, scarves and jackets. Anything that touches the head should be considered a personal item, especially during a lice outbreak.
- Be Cautious About Communal Furniture—If you know that furniture such as beds, couches, pillows or even carpets have been used or touched by someone recently affected by head lice, instruct your children to avoid contact.
- Avoid Hair-to-Hair Contact—Children with long hair in particular are routinely affected by this method of lice spreading. Remind your children, especially in situations where head-to-head contact is common such as on the playground or at slumber parties, that their heads should not touch those of other children.
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