An unpleasant but important guide to lice

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An unpleasant but important guide to lice

The word ‘lice’ usually sends a shudder down the spine of parents, and they can run through a playgroup like a runny nose. Although they're no fun, these tiny insects won't hurt your child, so a lice attack doesn't mean you need to panic. Knowing how to treat lice ahead of time means you'll be prepared if they ever attack.

Lice are insect parasites that live in the hair and feed on tiny amounts of blood from the scalp. They lay eggs in the hair, occasionally visible as very small white sacs, and can be very challenging to get rid of. If your child gets lice, it will probably be from a playmate or child she sees at daycare. Lice can’t fly or jump, but they can move from one head to another when they touch, like if two children hug. Sharing hats, brushes, and combs can also spread lice.

If you suspect your child might have lice, it's best to check right away. Each louse is about the size of a sesame seed, and they often blend in with the color of the hair they infest. If you don’t see anything with your naked eye, wet combing can help make lice more visible. Just wet your little one's hair and thoroughly apply conditioner, just like it's bathtime. Part the hair and in small sections, comb from scalp to the ends with a lice comb (this comb has extra fine teeth and will be sure to catch any lice if present). If there are lice present, they'll show up on the comb.

There are a few different ways to treat lice if you find them in your child's hair. The most common approach is to use an over-the-counter treatment combined with a lice comb. The medicine will kill the insects and the comb will help remove them, both alive and dead, from the hair and scalp. Other parents opt for special lice shampoos, which are also available over-the-counter. It should be noted that most over-the-counter treatments must be used for multiple days to be effective. Many natural or home remedies are also used by parents who are wary of the ingredients in most lice treatments. Home remedies include baby oil, olive oil, petroleum jelly, and use of a hair dryer, although the results have not been scientifically proven.

While lice can’t fly and a major house cleaning is not necessary, it is best to do some light cleaning and laundry to ensure the treatment's success. Lice can fall off onto bedding and carpet, so vacuuming and changing bed sheets is important. Additionally, your baby's car seat, pajamas, and towels should be cleaned daily until the lice are gone. Any stuffed animals or other toys that have come in contact with your baby's head can be placed in a sealed plastic bag for two weeks to ensure that no lice remain.

For many children, getting lice is nearly inevitable. Contact with children known to have lice should be avoided if possible, but there is a good chance that your baby will get lice at some point during childhood. Have a lice comb on hand, and if you find that lice have made a home on your baby's head, treat her right away, and they'll be a thing of the past before you know it.

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