Don’t Flunk Head Lice 101

When it comes to battling these bugs, knowledge is power

It’s fall; it’s also head lice season.

The term “lice” not only carries a stigma and serious ick factor, but these tiny bugs can dominate and cripple your household without warning. Unfortunately, I know this first-hand.

Having two children under five, it never crossed my mind I’d already be dealing with shampoos, sprays and that dreaded metal fine tooth comb. After all, lice only run rampant when kids rub their heads together — or so I thought.

My son had been itching for days. It’s a classic symptom of lice, but after having him looked at by a doctor we were told it was nothing more than an irritated scalp. We were given a topical medication and were sent on our way, never giving it a second thought. Apparently, you need a trained eye to be able to detect adult lice and nits. It’s actually misdiagnosed quite frequently.

Hours after our trip to the clinic, I began to feel quite itchy, but passed it off as having psychosomatic symptoms. I truly thought I was imagining things. But there was that poignant moment when both my child and I were itching simultaneously and it finally dawned on me: could we both have lice?

I raced to my phone and immediately called in the professionals.

Head lice removal:

Many lice removal companies make house calls. We had our entire family checked and all of us, with the exception of my husband, had lice. The team quickly got down to business, using a non-toxic shampoo to coat our hair. Admittedly, it was pretty agonizing trying to coach my young children through what seemed like marathon sessions of constant combing. Front to back, back to front, left to right. Every strand had to be combed through in multiple directions. I should thank my naiveté for thinking that after one application and comb-out, our heads and home would be rid of lice. They’re actually, quite possibly, one of the most resilient little critters to crawl on this earth. I was given a crash course in lice control and prevention, and followed up with combing sessions every other day for 10 days, which is the general lifespan of adult lice. According to LiceSquad.com, lice affect nearly 2.5 million Canadians every year.

What to look for:

It may be hard to spot lice and nits because they’re not only small, they can blend into hair easily. Arming yourself with a bright light and magnifying glass will give you a closer look at the scalp and hair. Check hot spots around bangs, behind ears and the nape of the neck. While lice are easier to spot — an adult louse is brown in colour and is about the size of a sesame seed — nits can be difficult to see. They’re teardrop shaped and usually brown in colour. They’re tiny but visible. If they appear stuck on the hair shaft, they’re probably lice eggs. If they flake off, you can breathe a sigh of relief.  Other than frequent itching, symptoms can include feeling as though something is crawling through your hair. Depending on the size of infestation, you may also experience itching on the back of the neck, or visible sores, which are typically the result of lice feeding on your blood. I was utterly disturbed by this revelation.

Lice Prevention:

Avoid head-to-head contact as best you can. That means no sharing brushes, clips or hats. You should also get into the habit of checking hair regularly. Some lice pros suggest doing head checks once a week, especially during colder months. You can also spray your hair with scented oils. While it won’t guarantee your family lice immunity, tea tree oil has been used as a natural lice prevention method. While there don’t seem to be enough studies to definitively prove the oil is in fact lice repellant, I’ve gotten into the habit of spraying my children’s hair every morning with a capful of tea tree oil mixed with water in a spray bottle. It doesn’t have the sweetest smell, but I’m hoping it’ll fend off those stubborn little bugs.

Myths about lice:

  • Lice jump or fly: They are actually wingless and while lice cannot fly or jump, they are fast crawlers.
  • Washing your hair will kill lice: Lice can survive hours in water, up to 24 hours according to some experts.
  • Lice burrow into your scalp or can spread to other areas of the body: Lice cannot burrow. They also do not travel far enough away from the scalp to cause problems elsewhere.

Suggested lice awareness/prevention links:



Canadian Paediatric Society

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