When Head Lice Attack: A Mother’s Guide to Nitpicking

When you become a parent there are several terms that make you want to run for the hills in utter terror. Strep throat. Chicken Pox. Stomach Virus.  Flu.  Hand, Foot and Mouth Disease.  But there’s one more term that seems to be the most feared of them all: Head Lice. It’s incredibly common, incredibly contagious and an incredibly hairy situation!

Parents are often ashamed to discuss head lice so they tend to tackle it in complete secrecy. In reality it’s a very common problem and it has most likely already affected many families you know.  If and when you open up about your experience you will be surprised to find out how many people can relate to this nightmarish situation.  “Once one kid gets it they all get it!” “My kids had it for a month!” “My daughter got it four times last year!”  And suddenly you begin to feel a bit better about the situation.

Tackling head lice is hard enough with just one kid but it’s an absolute nightmare with four! Now I know that quite well. Recently I had the pleasure of dealing with lice for the very first time and I sure do hope it’s the last.  It’s not a process I EVER want to repeat! Give me an entire family suffering from a stomach virus over head lice any day!

When Head Lice Attack: A Mother's Guide to Nitpicking

Last month I received a message alerting me to the fact that someone we were in recent contact with had lice.  I immediately went into panic mode and checked everybody’s hair over and over again. We seemed to be in the clear and I let out a HUGE sigh of relief. I would have never known to check again if it wasn’t for the intense scalp pain I woke up with a few weeks later. As I scratched my burning scalp incessantly the realization hit me. What if THIS was lice? I never had to deal with it before so I was clueless. My kids weren’t showing any signs and I couldn’t see anything but something was obviously wrong.

I later found out that I am one of the lucky few who are extremely allergic to lice. This was just the very beginning of an outbreak and the reaction was immediate. As a rash spread down my neck and back I started to check my kids.  I nearly missed it but finally saw a practically microscopic speck move across my daughter’s head. It was so terrifying that I literally screamed and jumped away.  Although both boys were clear, I did find one louse and a three nits (eggs) in my other daughter’s hair. I’m not going to even sugar coat it. I felt absolutely repulsed and completely violated by these parasitic insects.

I knew that tackling the problem quickly was the most important thing. After a shot of Benadryl to combat the oh-so-awesome allergic reaction I did some research, formulated a plan of attack and called a few assistants. My hilarious father, who showed up with a bowl cover over his bald head, watched my kids while I shopped for supplies.  $120 later I was armed and ready to conquer this repulsive epidemic.

As I stood in the middle of my living room with my hair soaking in a tingly, oily lice treatment I became completely overwhelmed at the work ahead of me. There were 3 heads to treat with ultra lice killer and 3 heads of long hair to carefully comb out. There were 2 more heads that needed a lighter just-in-case treatment and a thorough combing. My husband, who came home early to help, was suffering from phantom itchiness and just wanted his hair shaved off. The worst part, by far, was the mountain of laundry taller than me (29 loads-I counted). Let’s not forget the furniture, carpets and mattresses that needed to be vacuumed and treated with lice spray. And it was all happening in the midst of an overly busy day. It was a total nightmare!

Long story short: we survived and made it through. The treatment and combing took hours and our hair was greasy for days. And nothing screams true love more than a husband who is willing to comb lice out of your hair. It turns out that the infestation had just begun and barely only a few nits and lice were found. I can only thank my rare allergic reaction for alerting me to the problem early before it got worse. The treatment worked immediately and the lice stayed away.

Unfortunately not many people are as lucky as we were. Dealing with lice can be an incredibly difficult battle that often lasts for weeks. It really is a vicious cycle for many families! Most people already know what lice are but here are two great factual sites to reference: Kids Health and MedicineNet.com. If you have children the chances of encountering head lice are very high because head lice is most common in group settings (think schools, sports and day care). And because children love to cuddle and play closely together lice can spread rapidly.  (I’m willing to bet I got it from the tiny heads that are often pressed against mine.)

Now that I have experience in dealing with this hairy situation I’m going to share what I learned. The treatment is time consuming but the hardest part is making sure you clean, wash and treat EVERYTHING.

A Mother’s Guide to Nitpicking:

  • The most important thing to remember is that lice can happen to ANYBODY. It is not a matter of cleanliness. It just happens.
  • The most common symptom of lice is an itchy scalp but some people may not show any symptoms at all. A bumpy rash on the scalp is another symptom. Or, if you’re lucky like me, your entire scalp will become inflamed.
  • It’s incredibly difficult to spot lice or nits. If you suspect lice, wet yours or your child’s hair, sit in bright light and use a fine tooth comb to part the hair as you search the entire scalp.  The nits look like dandruff but won’t brush out of the hair like dandruff does. The lice can be visible but there usually aren’t many and they’re often extremely tiny (like a sesame seed).
  • IF you spot lice Nix Ultra is the most commonly recommended treatment. It’s a bit pricey but it works!
  • Follow the directions on the box EXACTLY and treat each family member who has lice.
  • After the treatment, comb through the hair section by section with a fine tooth comb. Many treatments often include a special comb.  This can take a lot of time but it’s a necessary step!
  • Don’t wash your hair for several days after the treatment.
  • Strip every bed in your home entirely and wash every single item in hot water and dry on high heat.
  • Vacuum your mattresses and spray with a lice treatment spray (don’t forget to flip them).
  • All the carpeting in your home needs vacuumed and throw rugs need to be washed in hot water and dried on high heat.
  • Vacuum furniture and spray with lice treatment spray. All pillows need to be washed in hot water and dried on high heat.
  • Vacuum the cloth seats in your car and spray with lice treatment spray.
  • Wash all child car seat covers. (Wash in hot water and dry on high heat.)
  • Vacuum and treat stroller seats with lice treatment spray.
  • Wash stuffed animals in hot water and dry on high heat. If they can’t be washed they need to be placed in an airtight bag for 3-5 days.
  • Everything your family wore or used needs to be laundered. All clothing, coats, backpacks and towels must be washed in hot water and dried on high heat.
  • Don’t forget to wash hair ties, headbands and bows and soak your brushes in a lice treatment. Baseball caps also need to be treated!
  • If you’re truly worried, just throw away items you can replace inexpensively. (Pillows, hair elastics, brushes, etc.)
  • Check your hair again in one week. If you spot lice or nits call your doctor. They may recommend repeating the treatment or they may have to prescribe another treatment.

Although you can’t really prevent lice there are quite a few tips and tricks that have been shared with me. There may not be much scientific evidence behind these tips but it doesn’t hurt to try! Here are the most common tips shared by more experienced parents:

  • Lice seem to prefer long hair that is free of styling products. (This was true for my family! My girls and I don’t use styling products but my son, who spends too much time slicking back his hair with gel every day was immune. And obviously the lice didn’t like my husband’s short hair!) When you or your children are going to be in a group setting pull back your hair into a ponytail, braid or a bun and spray with hairspray.
  • Some people swear by shampoo and conditioner that contain tea tree oil.
  • Comb through hair with a fine tooth lice comb once a week.
  • Soak brushes in hot bleach water once a week and regularly launder all hair accessories.
  • Limit the amount of pillows and stuffed animals that your children keep on their beds. Less items to wash in a lice outbreak is ideal!
  • Teach your children not to share brushes, hair accessories, hats, coats and pillows with other kids.
  • Regularly launder backpacks, bags and car seat covers.
  • Completely strip beds and wash comforters, pillows, mattress pads, bed skirts and stuffed animals once a month.

I would never wish the nightmare of head lice on anybody. If it happens, however, the most important thing to remember is that there is no need to feel embarrassed.  And sometimes it just helps to put things into perspective. My doctor joked that I will always know immediately when lice strike thanks to my allergy. And in the words of my wise friend: “Well. At least it isn’t roaches.” True that!

Stefanie blogs regularly at Lexie Loo, Lily, Liam & Dylan Too. She can be found sharing her family’s daily adventures (and keeping it real) on Instagram and Facebook.

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Stefanie Settlemire
Stefanie is a wife and SAHM to 4 children, living in Mars. Stefanie and her husband refer to their children as Phase One (Dylan-Age 13 and Alexandria-Age 10) and Phase Two (Liliana-Age 6 and Liam-Age 4). Phase Three is out of the question! Stefanie’s family became a family blessed with Down syndrome when her youngest child had a surprise diagnosis after his birth. Although the family’s initial reaction was shock and fear, they quickly learned to embrace this beautiful journey and they now realize what the term “The Lucky Few” really means. Stefanie spends her days wrangling chaos. In addition to four kids, her family has 4 large pet rabbits...the more the merrier! In her spare time she loves to embarrass her children by singing show tunes from her musical theater days, come up with messy projects to keep her children busy, chase her children around with her camera, read, volunteer for the Down Syndrome Diagnosis Network, blog at http://www.lexieloolilyliamdylantoo.com and post daily on Instagram (www.instagram.com/lexieloolilyliamdylantoo). Sleep is just a distant memory!