Head lice are every parent’s nightmare. Not only are they time-consuming to get rid of, but children are often ostracised because of them. We bust six common myths.
Every parent gets suspicious when their child starts scratching her head non-stop. Does she have head lice? How did this happen? I wash her hair every night! You’ll already be dreading informing the day care or school, because you know they’ll think your family is dirty and that they may now need to deal with a lice infestation.
Rest assured, there’s a host of myths surrounding head lice, one of which is that they like dirty hair. We asked Janine West, the owner of The South African Lice Clinic in Sandton, in association with Lice Clinics of America, to help us put the record straight.
Myths about head lice debunked
Children with poor hygiene are more likely to get head lice
Head lice are attracted to clean, shiny hair, because they find it easier to cling to it, so the assumption that only dirty people have lice is untrue. They also don’t carry any dangerous diseases, although their bites can make your child’s scalp itchy and irritated, and the scratching can then lead to infection.
Lice spread by jumping from head to head
While lice are highly contagious and can spread fairly quickly, especially in group settings like schools, day care centres, sleep overs, sports activities and camps, they can’t fly or jump. Lice have specially adapted claws that allow them to crawl and cling firmly to hair. They spread mainly through head-to-head contact, like when small children play in close contact at day care, or friends share hats or a brush.
You can get head lice from your dog
You can’t get head lice from your pets, just as they can’t get head lice from you.
Kids with lice should be sent home from school
Kids are often ostracised when they’re sent home from school with head lice. The best way to deal with head lice is to slip a letter in the child’s school bag for the parents and ensure the kids don’t share personal items like hats or brushes. Once the parents have taken steps to treat the head lice problem, there’s no need to keep your little one in quarantine at home.
Head lice outbreaks only happen in schools
There can be a head lice outbreak in any setting where your child has close head-to-head contact and shares items like bedding, pillows and towels.
Washing hair will get rid of head lice
The best way to get rid of lice is through proper medicated treatments. And don’t think the usual over-the-counter shampoo will do the trick. According to Lice Clinic of America, lice have now become resistant to most over-the-counter products such as preventative shampoos due to over use. Only a small percentage of the lice are killed and the eggs are left unharmed, leaving you with a recurring lice problem.
Signs of head lice
Adult lice are grayish-white or tan and no bigger than a sesame seed. They only live off the head for a day or so.
Here’s how to check if your little one has lice:
- Itchiness, especially behind the ears and in the nape of the neck
- Bumps on your child’s neck
- A feeling of movement on the scalp
- Constant scratching of the head.
Prevention is better than cure
The Lice Clinic of America suggests the following prevention tips:
- Conduct regular head checks to catch infestations early.
- Although it’s highly unlikely you will contract head lice this way, don’t share hats and hairbrushes.
- Act as soon as possible if you or your children are infected. Check your child’s hair for small white nits and inspect your child’s clothes and accessories she has worn within the past 48 hours for lice and eggs.
- Explain to your child why she shouldn’t share personal items that touch the head or ears.
- Explain to your child what lice are and why she shouldn’t touch heads with other children.
- Get a preventative shampoo and conditioner. These are available from The South African Lice Clinic.
- If your daughter has long hair, braid her hair for school or tie it up in a bun. This makes it harder for lice to cling to hair strands.
How to treat head lice
The South African Lice Clinic provides guaranteed lice treatments using FDA-cleared medical devices. The AirAllé used at the clinic kills head lice and nits using only heated air, and it takes just an hour. Developed by researchers at the University of Utah in the US, the AirAllé has been through rigorous clinical trials where it killed live lice and more than 99% of eggs.
For more information, visit www.saliceclinic.co.za or call 011 326 4004 or 082 843 1169.
What not to do:
- Don’t use your hairdryer. A consumer hairdryer is designed to safely and quickly dry hair. However, the technology needed to dry hair is much different than that for dehydrating lice and eggs near the scalp safely. Hairdryers often blow air that is too hot and can burn the skin when held close to the scalp for the required amount of time needed to kill lice and eggs, or air too cool to effectively dehydrate lice and eggs.
- Don’t use the same over-the-counter medication more than three times on your child. If it doesn’t seem to be working, chat to your pharmacist or healthcare provider about an alternative.
- Don’t use more than one head lice medication at a time.
Home remedies for head lice
Reader’s Digest recommends the following home remedies if you choose not to use chemicals to remove head lice:
- Experts recommend spreading mayonnaise over the entire scalp, covering it with a shower cap, and leaving it overnight in the hopes that the lice will suffocate from the mayonnaise. In the morning, comb the hair thoroughly with a lice comb to remove all the dead lice and nits. Wash thoroughly.
- Dr Danielle Fisher, chair of paediatrics at Providence Saint John’s Health Center in California in the US, suggests trying tea tree oil, because it has powerful antiseptic properties. Use it in the same way you would the mayonnaise. However, she warns that there are mixed recommendations about how long to keep the oil on your child’s hair, and how often to repeat the treatment. Experts recommend two or three treatments per week until the lice and nits are gone.
- Coconut oil is another method you can use like the mayonnaise and tea tree oil to smother the lice.
- Family medicine physician in the US, Dr Vinh Nguyen, recommends using a fine-tooth comb on wet hair to get rid of head lice. Continue combing each section until there are no more lice or nits. Repeat this for three to four days a week for several weeks.
- Make a garlic paste, using eight to 10 garlic cloves and a few teaspoons of lime juice. Spread the paste on the scalp, leave for 30 minutes and shampoo afterwards. Repeat this weekly for one or two months.
- Apply salt and vinegar to the scalp. The salt dehydrates the lice, while the vinegar kills young lice and nits. Although the vinegar won’t kill the adult lice, it is believed that it will loosen the “glue” that allows lice to hold on to hair strands. Follow this treatment by using a fine-tooth comb.
Xanet is an award-winning journalist and Living and Loving’s digital editor. She has won numerous awards for her health and wellness articles and was a finalist for the Discovery Journalist of the Year in 2009 and again in 2011 for the Discovery Best Health Consumer Reporting and Feature Writing category. She is responsible for our online presence across social media channels and makes sure our moms have fresh and interesting articles to read every day. Learn more about Xanet Scheepers.