When you became a parent, you probably never imagined yourself hunting for lice in your child's hair. But that's just what you (or someone) will have to do if you suspect that your child is infested.
When the bad news comes from a school
Many schools do regular lice checks during the school year, examining every child's head. If they find lice, they'll let you know. Be sure to do your own checking, though, to confirm their finding. You may instead get a note warning that someone in your child's class or school has lice. That's your signal to check your own child's head. It's best to do this as soon as possible, because the sooner you find the lice, the easier they are to handle. And if you do find lice, you'll need to check (and possibly treat) the whole family.
How to inspect your child's head
The sesame-seed-size creatures and their teeny-tiny eggs are quite hard to spot. To find out whether you need to take action, try the following two- to three-step process.
If you can't spot them via a visual inspection (step 2), try wet combing (step 3). A 2009 study in the Archives of Dermatology found that "wet-combing" accurately identified active head lice infestations in 90 percent of cases. In contrast, visual inspections accurately identified 29 percent.
You'll need really good light and a pair of strong drugstore reading glasses or a magnifying glass (unless you have the eyes of an eagle). If you move on to step three, you'll also need a metal lice comb and some hair conditioner.
Step 1: Look for the signs and symptoms of head lice
Your child may have one or more of these symptoms:
A tickling feeling on the scalp
A sensation that something is moving in the hair
Itching caused by an allergic reaction to lice bites (kids may scratch or rub their scalp, especially around the back of the head or ears)
Sores on the head caused by scratching
Trouble sleeping (lice are more active in the dark)
Step 2: How to search for lice, stage one (dry hair)
Check your child's scalp.
Part the hair in various places and check the scalp behind the ears and at the nape of the neck. You may notice sores or a rash where your child has been scratching.
Look for movement in the hair. You're not likely to see the lice themselves. They're very small, move quickly, and avoid light, so they're difficult to spot.
Look for lice eggs, known as nits.
These tiny white or yellowish tear drop-shaped sacs are attached to the hair near the scalp (within a quarter inch if they haven't yet hatched). Nits may be easier to feel than to see: They'll feel like grains of sand.
Make sure the "nits" you see are really nits.
Nits are often hard to distinguish from dandruff or flakes of hair products. The difference is that nits stick to the hair like glue while dandruff and other flakes are easily removed from the hair shaft.
Make sure the nits you find are still alive.
If the only nits you find are more than a quarter inch from the scalp, they may have already hatched and your child may no longer be infested. (Nits can only hatch in the warmth right next to the scalp. After they hatch, the empty egg remains attached to the hair and grows farther and farther from the scalp.) Only viable nits – those very close to the scalp – or live lice are proof of a current infestation.
Step 3: How to search for lice, stage two (wet hair)
You'll need to go on to this step if you can't tell whether there's an infestation by looking at your child's hair and feeling it, the way you did in step 2. Studies have found that a lice comb is the best tool for finding live lice. (A flea comb may also work.) The teeth on a regular comb are too far apart to nab the tiny lice.
Wet your child’s hair
Pour on lots of conditioner.
Comb the hair out in sections, from the roots to the ends, with a lice comb.
If there are lice in your child's hair, you should see them on the comb.
(Shaking the comb out into a plastic bowl after every swipe can help you see them better.)
If you determine that your child does have lice, check the other kids and adults in your house. You'll need to treat everyone to effectively rid your family of lice. If you follow these steps and you're still not sure, have your child checked by a caring technician at Larger Than Lice, we are open 24/7 and we will be more than happy to help you get rid of lice in your home!