Kill Lice Now! The Safest and Smartest Lice Removal Strategies

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Your child brought home lice, and after what feels like 800 days of trying pretty much everything to get rid of them, you're starting to think you should just burn your house down.  Relax!  You can defeat lice, safely and easily, without resorting to such extreme measures.  That may sound impossible, but you can do it! 

What Are Lice?

Head lice are parasites that live on the human head and feed on blood.  They are spread through head to head contact and can live in any type of hair.  Young children are especially susceptible to lice, as they are frequently in close contact with one another.  It only takes a moment for a louse to move from one head bent over a school project or game to another. 

About Lice 

  • Lice are small, roughly the size of a strawberry seed, when fully grown. They can be difficult to see, especially on fair hair, and are often mistaken for dandruff.  The nits (eggs) can be nearly invisible and are “glued” to the hair;
  • Lice cannot fly or jump but can crawl quickly along the hair shaft, making it easy for them to move from person to person;
  • While lice do not carry diseases, bites can become infected;
  • Lice can live roughly 30 days on a human, but multiply quickly;
  • Female lice can lay 8-10 eggs per day;
  • Head lice cannot live on pets, so Fluffy and Fido are safe; and
  • Head lice cannot live more than 12-24 hours without feeding. 

Symptoms of Lice Infestations 

The most common symptom of a lice infestation is itchiness, as lice bites cause an allergic reaction which causes the itch. 

Other symptoms include:

  • Red bumps on the head, neck and shoulders;
  • Difficulty sleeping (lice are most active at night); and
  • Swollen lymph nodes, which can be caused by the infections from the bites.  

Ways to Get Rid of Lice

 Now that you know the enemy, let’s work on lice removal.

The most important step is to get them out of your child’s hair.  Drugstore shelves are stocked with countless products claiming to kill and remove all lice and nits instantly.  The truth is, nothing kills all lice and nits instantly.  Lice removal takes time and a fair amount of patience, but you can do it safely.

Many products sold OTC contain pesticides and insecticides, which can be harmful to children and adults alike, not to mention the damage they do to the environment.   When looking at shampoos, be cautious of those that list pyrethrum and piperonyl butoxide in the ingredients.  These are natural insecticides, derived from the chrysanthemum plant, but have been known to cause headaches, nausea and breathing problems.  The FDA has not approved items containing these for use in children under two years old.

Lindane, which has been banned in California and most of Europe,  is another chemical commonly found in lice shampoos.  Lindane is a neurotoxin and has possible side effects that include hives, dizziness and even seizures.  It should be used with extreme caution.

The least toxic way to remove lice is by combing them out with a special lice comb.  These combs are usually made of metal and have tines, or teeth, that are very close together.  In young children, this is the safest method for lice removal.  It may take time, so give your child a snack, pop on a favorite show and start combing.

Electric combs, like the RobiComb®, are popular and safe options for lice removal, as they kill lice while you comb.  Using an electric comb will likely take about 20 minutes (depending on how wiggly your child is).  Most lice will die instantly, but those that aren’t will be temporarily immobilized, which makes them easy to remove.  You should check your child every day for up to 10 days to make sure all lice have been removed.

DIY remedies, such as smothering them with various oils, mayonnaise or other viscous products, can be messy, especially with young children, and may not be effective.   

After Treatment 

Preventive care will be your best friend during a lice infestation at your child’s school or daycare.  You’ve already killed them once, so don’t let them back in!  

If one person in the family has lice, all family members should be treated.  One hug from an infected child can spread lice to siblings, or even parents.  An electric comb can be used on everyone during the time your child is infected with lice, and then once a week to prevent a recurrence.

While lice cannot live long on bedding and stuffed animals, it’s still not a bad idea to wash everything in hot water (130F/55C, or higher), and dry on high heat.

Vacuum upholstery and carpets thoroughly, as even if the lice can’t survive, you want to clean up any dead bodies or nits! 

Another good option for preventative care is a lice repellent spray.  Spray your child’s head before school or daycare for 24 hours of protection.  

Remember, lice are easy to catch, but with a bit of vigilance, you can get rid of them and prevent them from coming back (even without burning down your house!)

 

 

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