There, I said it. Lice, lice, lice, lice, lice.
Are you squirming and uncomfortable? Feeling itchy all of a sudden? Got your attention, though, didn’t I? Got my attention, too. In a horrible, no good, very bad way.
I admit that my second reaction (the first being to quell the urge to vomit) to seeing bugs crawling in my daughter’s hair was completely selfish: “Why is this happening to me?”, especially on a night when my husband wasn’t due home for hours and I had a full evening of kids and work lined up. Then I realized that this wasn’t happening to me, it was happening to my eight-year-old daughter, who, I must say, has handled this whole ordeal with a great deal of grace. (Well, minus the yelping when I yank out yet another fist full hair with the übercomb.)
So how did this happen? Well, in large part it was sheer ignorance on our part, as parents. We were, in fact, immediately informed that a classmate had lice (a couple of weeks prior to our discovery). We were given an information sheet published by the York Region Public Health Department called The Facts of Lice (available online.) However, in the purely thiswillneverhappentoourkid way of thinking, we did not read the information (but, hey! we recycled it) and we did not check our daughter’s hair, as recommended. So, guess what? It can happen you your child. It can even happen to you.
The Thing About Lice
- Lice DON’T care what colour the hair is, how long or short or whether it’s straight or curly.
- Lice DO like clean hair, dammit!
- Lice DON’T hop, jump or fly; they crawl. They can travel from head to head through close contact so stop sharing combs, hats and hair brushes, kids! And tie back that long hair during lice season. 2016 Update: According to Lice Squad, there isn’t really a ‘lice season’; it is a year-round problem.
The Icky Life Cycle of Lice
- The life cycle of the head louse begins when the adult female glues her teardrop-shaped eggs with a cement bond (up to 150!!!) to the shaft of the hair, close to the scalp. (I found about 6 adult lice on my daughter’s head in the first 24 hours). Gag. 2016 Update: The female lays 3-5 eggs per day for up to her 30-day life span, hence the figure of 150.
- In 7-10 days the nymph hatches and begins feeding on blood drawn from the scalp. (These must have numbered in the hundreds; each removed painstakingly, one by one, over 3+ hours.) You still with me here?
- The nymph will reach adult stage, louse, in 10-14 days at which time the adult will survive on the head for about 20 days. Awesome. 2016 Update: The nymph molts 3 times to reach adult stage in 7-10 days.
So how do you get rid of lice?
- First, roll up your sleeves because things are going to get icky. Also, you will need coffee because dealing with lice is exhausting. 2016 Update: I’ve found also that wine works well in place of coffee, to calm your nerves.
- Bag all stuffed toys, throw pillows, pillows and pretty much anything that’s not bolted down in large garbage bags. Seal them and banish them to the garage for two weeks. 2016 Update: Items need only be sealed and set aside for 24-48 hours, not 2 weeks.
- Strip bedding and start doing laundry in HOT water. You will be doing laundry constantly for two weeks. Clothes and sheets. 2016 Update: It is not the laundering in hot water that is effective, it is the heat of the dryer. Place dryer-safe items in on high heat for 30-40 minutes.
- If your kid has short hair, consider shaving his (yes, his) head. This was not an option for us. 2016 Update: We actually did this.
- If there is ONE piece of advice I can give you, buy The LiceMeister Comb (or one like it). Do it now. You may not need it but if and when you do, the $24 investment will be worth not having to pick nits out one by one with your fingernails. For four frickin’ hours. And you will avoid the last-minute panic of having to hunt down the last comb in the city in the middle of an outbreak. 2016 Update: That comb is a lifesaver. Even better is the one sold by Lice Squad.
- If you are desperate, like I was, run to the nearest drug store and buy Nix Lice Treatment and follow the directions. (Side note: the comb that comes in the Nix treatment kit will only remove lice if they are the size of a golf ball. That thing didn’t remove s@#t.] We used the Nix kit the first night. And fingernails. 2016 Update: Ixnay the Ixnay Icelay Reatmentlay. No chemicals, please! Aside from the fact that they’re, you know, chemicals, these treatments do not kill lice.
- Many people recommend a conditioning rub with a few drops of tea tree oil (I use the Melaleuca brand). We did this once to twice a day in the week that followed. Dollarama brand conditioner will do. Soak hair, load in the conditioner then separate into sections and run the nit comb through, section by section. 2016 Update: DO THIS INSTEAD. Lice do not like tea tree oil. Mixed with the conditioner, it helps slow them down, making it easier to remove them because those suckers move fast on dry hair!
- Continue to check the hair daily until your urge to scratch your head subsides. I will check her hair for a month if I have to! All it takes is to miss that one elusive nit and you’re back to square one. 2016 Update: Yes to this.
- 2016 Update: If you are a parent and you find lice on yourself, have someone else comb your hair out. Better yet, call in the professionals like Lice Squad to treat you and your family. The peace of mind alone outweighs the cost.
How to Prevent or Minimize the Impact of Lice
We continue to check and recheck all the kids, praying it doesn’t spread. [Update: our youngest son got lice about two weeks after my daughter. But thankfully, because of my diligent daily checks, we caught it early.] And we are all shampooing with tea tree oil-infused shampoo on a regular basis now.
2016 Update: Pay attention to the damned letter sent home from school! We get too complacent with these warnings and then BAM! you’re in the middle of lice hell. Get into the habit of checking your kids’ hair periodically and consider misting their school things (backpacks, jackets, hats) with a diluted mix of water and tea tree oil in a spray bottle.
Resist the Urge to Make ‘Lice is Gross’ Comments
Lice is gross. I mean it’s little bugs crawling around your hair, sucking your blood, for crying out loud! And eradicating lice is exhaustive work, as much for you as for your kiddo. However, please be aware that, while this may be an inconvenience to you, your child is dealing with some emotional side effects and may require some reassurances that he/she has done nothing wrong. Again, Mommy Fail #2 was to send my daughter back to school without fair warning of the stigma attached to lice and the fact that some kids might be repelled by the idea of being near her.
My daughter was surprised and hurt when, after her honest reply to friends’ inquiries into her absence from class, she was met with, “Ewwww!” and “We don’t want to be near HER!” To her, having lice was akin to having the flu or a bad cold. (Mind you, I’d take a flu over lice any day of the week. And, I think, she would, too.)