It is no surprise that September is Head Lice Prevention Month. As children return to the classroom, it is common to see an outbreak in head lice infestations at this time of year.
Head lice are parasitic insects that need human blood to live. They are highly contagious and everyone – even those with the best of hygiene habits – is susceptible, but there are ways to reduce your child’s risk.
Even young children can be taught some simple ways to avoid getting head lice, starting with not sharing. Although it may be contrary to everything they’ve been taught, this is one time when generosity isn’t a great idea. Head lice can be transferred from one person to another through sharing objects such as combs, brushes, hair accessories, helmets, hats, scarves, coats and headsets.
Head lice move by crawling and can spread through hair-to-hair contact. High-risk situations include contact sports, sleepovers, camps and playground activities. Talk to your child about the ways head lice are spread and the importance of avoiding these activities when there is a known head lice outbreak.
If you think your child may have come into contact with an infected person, don’t panic. Disinfect combs and hairbrushes by soaking them in hot water for 10 minutes. Machine-wash all bedding, towels and clothing that might be contaminated using hot (130 degree) water and dry on the hot setting. Seal any items that can’t be washed in a plastic bag and leave for 2 weeks.
Check your child’s hair for signs of nits, the eggs laid by female head lice. Nits are small white or yellowish dots and often resemble dandruff. They attach firmly to hair shafts close to the scalp. Adult lice are brown seed-like insects that move quickly and can be difficult to spot.
Symptoms of head lice infestation including itching, crawling sensation on the scalp, scalp sores due to scratching and restless sleep, since head lice are often active at night.
It is not usually necessary to see a dermatologist for the treatment of head lice, since there are a number of effective treatment options available without a prescription. After selecting a treatment, follow the directions carefully and use only one product at a time.
If head lice do not go away after treatment, or if scalp infection develops, contact your dermatology office for advice about additional treatments or prescription medications.