Head Lice in a Baby or Child: How to Get Rid of Them?
Lice are parasites. These small insects live on your scalp and suck blood to survive. Their size ranges from 1 mm to 3 mm, meaning they are very difficult to see.
Each louse takes around 6-14 days to become fully grown. During this period the female mates and lays eggs. The eggs hatch after a period of one week to ten days. The shells of the eggs stay stuck to the shaft of your hair. The average lifespan of a louse is 21 days while a female louse lays up to 56 eggs in a single mating. The eggs are yellowish-white in colour and one may confuse them with dandruff. However, unlike dandruff, the eggs stay stuck to your hair and are difficult to remove.
Head lice do not cause any disease, but having them is irritating. Your baby or child will experience intense itching and this, in turn, will make her restless. She may not be able to sleep in peace as well. Apart from that, your child may face a boycott at her daycare or school since having lice is considered to be a sign of poor hygiene. Also, close contact with an affected person can lead to a healthy person getting the infection.
Most people think that lack of hygiene and poverty are the reasons for lice infestation. This is nothing but a myth. Head lice like both clean and dirty hair. They love to settle down in all kinds of hair, irrespective of length and condition. You can find head lice in the hair of even the people of the wealthiest communities. If your child or baby has lice, it is not because she is dirty. Chances are high that she has got them from another infected individual, who can be your relative, neighbour, someone in your child’s playschool, or even her older sibling!
Video: Head Lice in Babies and Children – Causes, Signs and Remedies
Head Lice Symptoms in a Baby or Child
The most common symptom of head lice is itching. Lice bite onto the scalp to suck blood and this causes allergic reactions. Your child might not start itching from day one. You may notice this symptom after six weeks of infestation.
The other symptoms that you can be on the lookout for are:
- Sores on your child’s head that develop due to intensive scratching
- Your child complaining about the feeling of something walking on her scalp
- Irritability and difficulty in sleeping
- Red bumps on your little one’s head, shoulder, and neck
- Small white eggs in her hair
- Live adult lice present on her hair or scalp
Causes of Head Lice
Having head lice is not uncommon and more so, if your child has started going to school. You probably had lice yourself when you were small!
One in every five children suffers from head lice infestation at least once in their childhood. Head lice spread from head to head contact so your child can easily get them while playing with another child who has head lice. It can transfer from adults while they are cuddling your baby or hugging your child.
Remember, head lice do not spread from infested bedding, clothing, hats, or towels. So, there is no need to sterilize these things.
Head Lice Treatment for Babies
There are different ways to get rid of head lice. Anti-lice shampoos and oils are available that you can use on your child to get rid of the lice and the eggs too. You can also use a lice comb; make sure you do it regularly till all lice and eggs are removed from your child’s hair and head. If your child is already infested with head lice, a combination of both will give the desired results.
If you are using an anti-lice shampoo, the application will depend on the brand. Make sure to read the label carefully and use the product as frequently as suggested. In most cases, you will need to apply the shampoo twice with a seven days gap in between to ensure all the live adult lice and the newly hatched ones are gone. You might have to leave the shampoo on your child’s hair for 10-12 minutes before washing it off, though this varies from one brand to another. Rinse the hair well and comb her hair with lice comb while it is wet to remove all the dead lice.
It is best to consult your paediatrician to know which brand of anti-lice shampoo will be suitable for your child. The doctor will recommend the right brand depending on your child’s age and her medical condition, also taking into consideration other health risks and factors (like asthma) if any. The doctor might tell you about the brands that you need to avoid. Also, if you’re breastfeeding or pregnant, some shampoos might not be safe for you to touch.
Sometimes, lice are resistant to a certain chemical. In such cases, a particular shampoo will not work and you will have to look for other brands. Make sure not to use any of these shampoos more than thrice as, being heavily medicated, they come with a lot of chemicals. This means, that if all the brands fail, you will have to wait for a while before you could try a stronger one. Don’t forget to check with the paediatrician, if you are thinking of switching brands.
Lice medicines that you can apply to your child’s hair and scalp are also available.
Home Remedies to Treat Lice in Baby or Child
If you want to stay away from chemicals, you can use the following as an effective head lice treatment for babies and children:
- Wash your child’s hair and scalp with ordinary shampoo. Then massage a generous amount of oil or hair conditioner. (If you have an infant, wet her hair with warm water and apply just conditioner).
- Detangle her hair with a wide-tooth comb and then comb her hair with the lice comb. Part her hair into as many sections as possible and make sure you comb all the sections properly. Start combing from the scalp to the tip of the hair. Conditioner-coated, as well as wet lice and eggs, will stay still and hence will easily get caught while you are combing. Wash the comb properly before you start combing another section. If not, use a cloth to wipe it clean and then continue combing.
- Once you have finished combing all the sections, rinse her head again. Use the same procedure to get rid of any remaining lice.
- Try weaving a piece of thread in the lice comb regularly before using it to comb your child’s hair. This will help in eliminating the small lice as well. For the remaining, you will have to use your hands.
- Make your child sit on a piece of a newspaper while you are combing her hair. If you see any lice falling on the paper, flush them down the toilet or the drain.
- Repeat this procedure 4 times leaving a gap of three days in between two sessions. This will eliminate all lice in your child’s hair and your child will be lice-free within 17 days.
This is how to get rid of lice at home. You can also use an electronic comb that works by electrocuting the lice. Essential oils and shampoos with neem as a constituent can also help in getting rid of lice. Olive oil, baby oil, and mayonnaise have also been used by many mothers.
Shaving off your child’s hair is another option that you have. This may seem drastic but it is an effective method, especially for a severe lice infestation.
How to Prevent Head Lice in Young Children
There is very little that you can do to prevent head lice in children. All you can do is warn her against brushing her head with other children. Also, you will have to examine her scalp on a regular basis. This will prevent the lice from a lice comb house increase in numbers as you will be able to nip the problem in the bud. Start treating your child the moment you see a single louse.
Do You Need to Keep Your Child Away From School or Nursery?
This cannot ever be a solution as you cannot compromise on your child’s education. Make sure to examine her scalp regularly an,d treat infestation actively. Newly-hatched eggs stay on the scalp for around six days and it is only the adults that move from one head to the other. You can remove the newly-hatched eggs by using a lice comb before they can move on.
Many schools and creches examine their student’s heads from time to time. If your child has lice, the school will let you know. However, make sure you do your regular examinations as well.
Lice are common in babies and children, especially when they start school. Getting rid of them and keeping your child’s hair free of these pests requires a concerted effort, and may take some time. Regular checking of your child’s scalp is sure to help identify and resolve the issue before it escalates.
Also Read: Home Remedies for Head Lice in Children