This column appeared in the Colorado Springs Gazette. To syndicate the national version, contact DrHubbard [at] TheSurvivalDoctor [dot] com.
It’s a young child’s rite of passage—the note from the teacher stating your little darling has head lice. “But we’re not a nasty family,” you think. Well, guess what? No one who really knows about head lice thinks you are.
And, truth be told, you don’t have to be a child or in school to get the critters. Anytime anyone’s hair with lice touches your hair, you can get them. You can also get them if you use a contaminated brush, comb, hat, barrette or scrunchie. All that’s need is one louse (singular for lice) catching a ride for fresh blood.
How to check for head lice
- Make sure both the lice checker and the checkee are comfortable. You don’t want to rush this. Find some good lighting, and stand or sit above the person, looking down on the scalp.
- Be psychologically ready. Back when I first started practice, I remember examining a prim and proper elderly lady who was in for something else but said, “Oh, by the way, my scalp’s been inching a lot lately.” Confident I would find a red scalp from some sort of allergic reaction or maybe a bad case of dandruff, I was somewhat taken aback when I parted the perfectly permed gray hair and spotted a couple of bugs crawling around.
- Be ready to squash those critters. In the case above, I admit I wasn’t. Wear gloves if it makes you feel better. But they aren’t going to hurt you.
- Check for the nits (eggs). They’re attached, really cemented, to hair strands. Sometimes nits are all you’ll see. You’ll usually find them within a fourth of an inch from the scalp. They’re pretty tiny but definitely noticeable. Good lighting and a magnifying glass can help. Dirt and dandruff can be confused for nits, but they brush off easily. The nits don’t.
How to kill head lice
Here are three options to kill the lice and their offspring (from most to least effective):
- Shampoos that contain pyrethrin, such as Nix, can kill the lice and the eggs.
- Neem oil or shampoos containing it work OK, but you’ll need to shampoo for 20 minutes and leave it on for an additional 10.
- A mayonnaise treatment will kill the lice but not necessarily all the nits. Slather it over the scalp, and seal it with a shower cap or some sort of plastic for 36 hours.
After you’ve finished the treatment, wet the hair, and pick out the nits with a fine-tooth comb.
The lice lay their eggs close to the scalp, and of course the hair grows. So nits found further than half an inch from the scalp have probably already hatched and are empty casings.
Repeat the treatment about seven to nine days later to get rid of any lice hatched from nits that survived the first treatment.
How to prevent head lice
Treat everyone who’s been in close contact with the person who has lice. Also treat people who used the person’s hair accessories or slept in the same bed within 48 hours prior to the diagnosis.
Wash all potentially contaminated materials in water that’s 130 degrees F or hotter. If you can’t do this, either throw the materials away or seal them in a plastic bag for two weeks. The lice and nits can’t live away from the comfort and food (blood) of a good scalp for more than a few days.
Colorado Springs family doctor James Hubbard teaches how to survive when you can’t get to a doctor at TheSurvivalDoctor.com, one of the most popular survival websites. Dr. Hubbard is the author of the best-selling e-books The Survival Doctor’s Guide to Wounds and The Survival Doctor’s Guide to Burns.