I know, I know. Stop scratching your head. I’m not saying you have it … I’m just saying if you have kids, there is a very good chance you do. Seriously people?! What is the deal? I grew up in a neighborhood where parents didn’t care about hygiene some of the time, didn’t know where their kids were half the time and were checked out most of the time. Amidst all that negligent parenting, I think we had two lice scares through all of grade school. Both times, everyone thought the kid who wasn’t in school had cooties and our principal, Sister Joan, checked each of our heads for about 3-4 seconds with a ruler and a popsicle stick.

Now, in a generation where we are prone to obsess over the color and consistency of our children’s stool, and we follow them virtually when we can’t follow them physically, lice is rampant. One would think with all this hovering, we would notice a bug infestation in their scalps. We will publicly berate a volunteer coach who doesn’t live up to our expectations, but we’ll ignore eggs hatching live parasites on their heads. Perhaps we need to take the helicopter down a few hundred feet and get our hands dirty.

What you need to know:

– Lice are parasites that feed on human blood every few hours. They do not transmit disease but they will turn your world upside down.

– They cling to the hair shaft with these crazy claws and are very difficult to get rid of.

Photo credit: CDC


– An adult louse is grey brown in color and is about the size of a sesame seed. Female lice can lay six eggs a day.

Photo cred: CDC

Photo credit: CDC

– The eggs are about the size of a knot in a piece of thread, are yellow white in color and if are unhatched are usually found within a 1/4 inch from the scalp.

Photo credit: CDC

– Head to head contact is the most common way to get lice, although the bugs can be transmitted on hats, sheets, brushes and helmets.

– Like white men, they cannot fly or jump. They aren’t carried by animals and they can’t live more than 48 hours without a human host.

– Early on, there will likely be no symptoms, but as more eggs are lain and hatch, the scalp will become itchy and you will feel light movement through the hair, especially at night. Lice, much like middle aged women, like to party in the dark.

Similar to a bacteria exposed to too many antibiotics (shameless little plug for avoiding antibiotics unless you need them), lice are becoming resistant to all the old treatments you can buy over the counter.  We are now dealing with bad-ass lice who have been through hell and have come out on the other side. Unlike their inferior ancestors, a shampoo with a little Rid is not going to do the trick. Also, according to lice-pickers, as the warm and welcoming country we are, we are now accepting immigrant lice who are hitching a ride on tourists and American travelers. Life ain’t so cushy in other parts of the world, and they laugh their little lice-laugh at our meager attempts to wash them away. It’s becoming a real problem.

Lice is in my children’s school and last week, the school nurse called. I threw up on the phone — just a little — as I answered it. Then, I screamed, “Nooooo!” into the phone so loudly, I am sure I injured her eardrums. Turns out, Serena was just feeling really sick. Whew! Thank heaven for small favors! I was actually giddy when I picked her up, despite her weak and pale appearance. I survived that scare, but with three long haired girls, it is only a matter of time.

If you take the advice of the CDC or school websites, the treatment doesn’t seem that time consuming or horrendous. But, with the super, resilient lice we are dealing with, I’d go above and beyond to ensure we get every last little bugger.

Here’s where I turn the baton over to Amy. When it comes to lice, and many other scary things in my life, I’m listening to her. You should too.


First, there is no need to panic. You can, and will, get rid of the lice. I had my first scare a few years ago when my daughter’s class sent home a notice saying someone had lice. I asked my girlfriend, who has four daughters with thick brown hair and has had lice a few times, “How do I  check for the little buggers?” She had spent thousands of dollars to delice her house and her children’s hair. She’d been to one of the best lice pickers in the tristate area. She is now an unwitting expert when it comes to lice, and her bad experience benefitted me. Now that I know what to do, lice does not scare me. Tell me you have bed bugs and then you will see me panic.

Here’s how you get rid of them without spending hundreds to thousands of dollars.

First, if you have kids, you should have a homemade lice kit in your house.

Here’s what it should include:

— shower caps for every family member
— Dawn dishwashing soap
— a NISSKA lice comb (one for every person in the family)
— a magnifying glass
— Pantene conditioner
— olive oil

Trust me. It is important to have all these things on hand before you need them. I have had people call me at ten p.m. and ask me to check their child’s head, and I bring my lice kit over for them. Stores may not be open when you discover it. When you order the NISSKA lice comb, get one for every child in your family and wash them in hot soapy water after use. I throw mine in the dishwasher.

What do you do when you or someone else finds lice in your child’s hair?

Immediately saturate the hair with the olive oil and place all the hair under the shower cap. They need to sleep in it. This will suffocate any live bugs. The next morning you need to use the Dawn dish washing soap to get the olive oil out.  Of course, anyone who has lice should do this, but I am paranoid and I make our entire family do it just to be sure. Now you just have to deal with the eggs.

After you wash the olive oil out and dry the hair, cover it with Pantene conditioner. You need to saturate it with the conditioner. This is what detaches the lice from the hair shaft when you use the lice comb. Brush all the hair back away from the face with your hands (not a brush because you might miss an egg.) Then, start above one ear.  Take a small section of hair and comb through until the end. Separate the hair you’ve already combed by pulling to the front or securing with clips you don’t mind throwing away. Line up all white paper towels and after combing each section,  wipe the conditioner along the paper towel looking for anything that looks like a sesame seed or small bug. This is where the magnifying glass comes in handy. Most of us moms are already starting to lose our eyesight. Repeat until you have combed through all the hair. This can take anywhere from 15 -90 minutes depending how much hair you have. If you find anything, you should do the comb out every day for up to ten days. Then, on the tenth night sleep with the olive oil again. Most nits hatch after 7-11 days, but if you are combing out properly and carefully, you should get all the eggs off the head by the second day. Only after all this, they should be cleared of any lice.

In the meantime, strip all the bedding. Wash the sheets and pillows. I suggest putting the comforters in the dryer only. Comforters take too long to dry and it will back up your whole process for hours. Trust me you will have so much laundry and the only thing that kills the lice is the heat from the dryer anyway. You then need to vacuum the mattresses of the person who had the lice and all of the carpets. To save time on laundry, I pick out two towels for everyone and seal off the linen closet for a week. Wash those towels on day one and then keep reusing and rewashing. Same goes for your sheets. Have two sets washed and cleaned on day one and seal off the rest to save time on laundry. I also suggest the same for clothing. Instead of washing everything, pick out a few outfits and wash those and seal off the closets for a week. It will save you a ton of time. Remember, lice cannot survive more than two days without a human host.

I advise throwing out all combs, hair ties and brushes. If they are expensive you can clean them in hot, soapy water and put them in a baggie for a few weeks before you use them again. I have also cleaned mine and placed them in the freezer for a few days. 

Bag up all stuffed animals and decorative pillows and throw them in your garage for a few weeks. Vacuum the upholstered furniture. Then, place a clean sheet on the sofa and wash it every night. Don’t forget to change the pillow cases every night. I also put a towel over the pillow when we have the olive oil on because it saturates the pillow. 

After all this is done, sit back and down a bottle or two of wine with someone. You will need it. Most likely your drinking partner will have to be your spouse, because no one else will come within 100 feet of you. 

How do you check your own hair? Ask a good friend, preferably one who has experience with lice, to check you out. Hey, what are friends for?

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Author: Karen Latimer

Karen is a Family Doctor, mom of five and founder of Tips From Town.


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