The Ugly Truth About Lice

Lice. Its that word that makes your scalp itch just by reading it (sorry!).

Several months ago we had that dreaded thing happen- I was combing my 7 year old’s hair to put in braids and I saw a bug. I yelled for my husband to eradicate said bug and then I was content to continue combing.  I had assumed the bug came from playing in the yard only an hour earlier.

Truth About Lice2

My husband came back to us and said those words “I think its lice”.  I argued, I tried to convince him he was wrong. He showed me a picture on his phone and I refused to believe it.  Then I found another one. And it took only one second of looking at the fine hairs behind my daughter’s ear to find the undeniable proof.  She had nits everywhere.

The thin hair around the ear and the back of the neck are the best place to find nits and lice. Its the first place to look for a quick check.
The thin hair around the ear and the back of the neck are the best place to find nits and lice. Its the first place to look for a quick check.

We all kinda had a moment of chaos.  My daughter started freaking out, holding her head at a funny angle as if to keep the bugs from affecting her. I ran to the computer to research lice treatments.  My husband grabbed his keys to run to the drugstore. It was pandemonium.

Eventually this lice problem spread to me and one of our other daughters.  It took us just over two months to actually get rid of all the lice.  I have some very important things to tell you, and you may not want to hear them.

What do they look like?

Lice are small and can range in color from white to brown.  They are wingless from birth to death but are fast crawlers.  The youngest ones are fastest.  Nits are the eggs and are generally attached to the very bottom of a hair shaft, close to the scalp.  Nits are generally whitish or grey.

What are the steps to getting rid of lice?

Well, here is the million dollar question. My first step was to douse her head in baby oil.  Supposedly the oil will smother the lice so they can’t breathe and will, therefore, die.  It worked on the one adult lice we found on her head.  But the baby oil treatment doesn’t work on nits and generally you have to wait a few hours with the oil on your head- overnight is preferable.

Next we washed out her hair and blow dried it.  I’d heard that high heat can kill nits.  But I’m thinking that the temperature required to actually kill the nits is too high for a scalp to handle.Electric Lice Comb

My husband rushed off to the drugstore with an order to buy a lice comb.  He called to inform me that there was a really expensive one that was supposed to ZAP the lice and nits with an electrical charge strong enough to kill them on contact.  I told him to BUY IT! So he came home with this comb and we began combing.  It didn’t work.  The prongs were not close enough together to actually even touch the nits because they were so small.  We didn’t have lice living to try it on at the moment.

I sent my husband back to the store and he came home with a lice comb and a spray that was considered “All Natural” and “Guaranteed to kill lice and nits”.  I tried using the comb. In fact, I made several passes through her hair with the comb, being very thorough. And still, the comb tines were just not close enough together to get the nits or, the tines were so close together it was snagging her hair and causing her to howl.

This is a typical lice comb with fine tines.
This is a typical lice comb with fine tines.

Eventually, we started to pick the nits out by hand. After three hours of this, we declared her to be lice free and just for added measure and caution, we sprayed her down with the spray that was guaranteed to kill the nits.  To be safe, we even sprayed all the kids and then put their hair up in braids or buns so as to hinder the chance of rogue hairs flying out with nits attached.

Is that it?

No.  I can not be emphatic enough.  Over the next week we glanced through her hair several times, checking all the kids halfheartedly, convinced that we’d gotten everything on the first go around.  And then one fateful day we found a lice on our second daughter’s head.  And then we found lice on my head.

For weeks we spent a few hours every few days nit-picking our daughters’ hair, my husband combing through mine.  And then for some reason we just stopped for over a week and next thing we knew, there was a swarm of lice on my kids’ heads, worse than before!  My husband and I sat down and had a heart to heart.  Nit-picking was backbreaking labor and had to be done daily.  Or we could shave everyone’s heads (yes, it was seriously a consideration!).  Or we could break down and buy insanely expensive lice treatment from online.

We ultimately went for nitpicking every single day. And it worked. Finally, after two months.

The Ugly Truth is this: lice are difficult to get rid of.  Most people have to spend days or months trying to get rid of lice because the treatments we so readily used as children are no longer as effective.  So, here is what I learned from my nit-picking days.

Very small sections of hair is the most effective in finding nits.
Very small sections of hair is the most effective in finding nits.

1.  NITS are really hard to see.  They can attach to one side of the hair and not be seen by looking at the other side.  When looking for the nits, look at very, very, very small sections at a time, and look at every side of the hair. Also, many websites claim the nits only attach to the root of the hair, next to the scalp.  I frequently found nits attached much farther out and would have missed them if I wasn’t being overly cautious.

2. Do Not assume that looking at the hair every few days is going to be enough.  Even a quick look through all the hair every day is better than a very thorough look every 4-5 days.  Nits take about a week to hatch and then take about a week and a half to lay eggs.  If you miss the nit, the scurrying lice is harder to catch.  Daily inspections increase your chance of finding the bugs before they mature to the egg laying stage.

3.  Don’t rely on “lice treatments”.  Many online message boards are filled with parent experiences showing that the over the counter treatments are less than effective as the lice are starting to become resistant to them.  You could splurge on very expensive brands but you run the risk of having harsher chemicals hurt your child’s scalp or still not even working.

4.  Lice combs aren’t designed to catch every single lice and nit.  They are designed to detect lice and as a second line of defense after use with the chemicals.   Plan on using your finger nails to get the majority of nits out.

5. It is suggested that you black bag every piece of bedding and coats/hats that your children could have come in contact with and leave them outside for several weeks.  This ensures that the lice will die, any nits they may have laid will hatch and die and then the items will come back intro your home, ready to be vacuumed off and free from lice.  Also, putting items in a high heat wash and dry cycle would work, if the items are washable.

6.  Stress to your kids how important it is to not cuddle or put their heads next to other people.  Lice can not jump or fly so the easiest way for them to pass between friends or family members would be to crawl.

7. It is a courtesy to inform your child’s teachers at school or church as well as informing family members or friends, so they can be aware and catch it early if it has spread already.

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