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6 Tips for Dealing With Lice

How to survive an outbreak with your sanity intact

Published on: September 12, 2017


I'll admit it: My kids have had lice. Repeatedly. If you’ve been there too, you know all about the darkness an infestation can unleash: the combing, the crying, the laundering. All of it can add up to a big pile of misery.

Unfortunately, lice is a fact of life in schools. For those of you novice delousers — and those hoping to come up with suggestions on how to minimize the agony — here's my hard-won advice on conquering lice while retaining your sanity.

  • If you have a long-haired child, buy two boxes of the treatment kit. One isn’t going to cut it and you’re inevitably going to wind up having to run out for another box while the kid is sitting there half-done and complaining.
  • Know that treatment-resistant lice are on the rise. You may need to try two different brands. Do not, I repeat, get squeamish about chemicals and reach for the organic stuff. Or mayonnaise. Or tea tree oil. You need to nuke them. If over-the-counter doesn’t yield results, you may need to resort to a prescription-strength formula from your pediatrician. I’m sorry.
  • While at the pharmacy, buy the fine-toothed metal comb for lice hunting and another bottle of laundry detergent. You’re going to need it. If your pharmacy sells wine, you may wish to consider that as well.
  • Do what’s necessary to make the endless combing go easier for all involved. Put on music — if it doesn’t make little heads move around — or a movie. Designate a comfortable chair, cover it and park your victims there.
  • Start laundry immediately and just keep it going for the foreseeable future.  The good news is that the CDC says only objects that had head contact with the carrier 48 hours before diagnosis need to be cleaned. Change pillowcases and towels daily—same for shirts. Launder—or dry clean-- hats as possible. If you can’t launder, stick them in gallon plastic bags and put them in the freezer for several days. Extreme heat or cold both kill off the bugs.
  • If you reach the point of desperation, you might want to think about calling in the professionals. Many areas now have businesses that handle lice treatment like a military operation. Are they expensive? Yep. But if they help you to regain your equilibrium, it could be worth it. One mom who has gone this route — but wants to remain anonymous because, as she said, “it’s so gross” — says that she decided to go for it the second time they had lice in the house. “It's because the first time was such a nightmare,” she explained. “We all got infected, and the chemicals didn't do a good job of actually killing them  so it took me months to actually get rid of them.” She learned how to make sure that she was getting rid of all the bugs, especially the nits. “Ultimately,” she said, “it is a safer and more thorough option. My only reservation was the price. But after doing it, I would never try the chemicals again if, God forbid, we ever get lice again.”

Getting hit with lice is exhausting and can feel like a parenting fail: if they washed their hair more often, if I had been more vigilant ... if, if, if. The hard truth is that about 56 million kids attend school in the U.S. and between 6 and 12 million cases of lice occur annually in kids between 3 and 11, most of them school-age.

While no one is going to hand you a Lice Endurance merit badge, you’ll know, in your heart of hearts, that you’ve earned one.

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