Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Head Lice, Critical Mom Style

The first time one of my kids had head lice, it took us a week to figure it out.  Jimmy (not his name) was four at the time, and normally a sound sleeper.  But for several nights in a row I heard him yell out in his sleep:  "Lemme ALONE!  Lemme ALONE!" and then I heard flopping noises, his legs crashing against the wooden frame of the bed, then mumbled imprecations, the worst insults he could think up at that age, then snores--loud ones.
The teachers at his kindergarten had checked all the children for head lice, they said, so I didn't think to look myself.  Until he scratched his head vigorously, and I noticed, when I picked him up from kindergarten, that the teachers were checking little scalps under a light so weak that one would go blind trying to read a book under it.
I should have known better when my daughter, then just four, started scratching several years later, but I was distracted.  She was visiting me in the hospital where I was recuperating from pneumonia and as she regarded me sadly, scratching, she asked, "Mommy, does the doctor you live with now say I can't nurse forever?"  I thought my sudden removal to the hospital and the ban on nursing (too many antibiotics coursing through my veins) had traumatized her.  So I said, "Sit on mommy's lap and I'll brush your hair." And I brushed her hair, thinking to soothe her, and after she'd gone home I brushed my own hair.  With the same hairbrush, alas.  I assumed that the extreme scalp itch I felt within a day or two resulted from the antibiotics--itching, they had told me, could be a side effect.  On my daughter's next visit I brushed her hair again, and happened to look down and see little gray things crawling through her scalp.  I called the nurse, who sent the doctor, who took a look and jumped back, gasping but this time not (as had my son's pediatrician) screaming.

So, pay attention, mothers and teachers:

(1)  Get a really strong flashlight or the kind of lamp that TV cops train on the face of suspects whom they are interrogating.  Train that lamp on your kid's scalp.

(2)  If you see the little gray things crawling along the edge of his hairline, or little white things stuck to hair shafts, do not do what my son's pediatrician did:  jump back shrieking, in a panicked fashion, and yelp, "OH!  These are more than a week old!"

(3) Do not buy that stuff the pediatrician prescribes--the Nix, The Rid, The Quell, and certainly not the stronger stuff.  At least, don't let the chemical carcinogens approach be your first.  Save the big guns for the last resort.

(4)  Mix together olive oil and a bunch of essential oils, better yet "Therapeutic Grade" essential oils.  Go on the net for everybody's home recipe, and you'll find many.  Here's one I like, which includes the kind of comb you'll need: 

Do your own research on essential oils.  Citronella, for example, repells not only mosquitoes but head lice, so if your kid doesn't have head lice YET but everyone in his class does, try a dab of this.  If he tolerates it--mine liked the smell, but some kids won't--you can rub a handful into his scalp.

(5) The basic idea behind  grease-based approaches to head lice remains simple:  cut off the air supply of the lice.  A scalp full of mayonnaise, a plastic bag firmly fixed over the scalp so that the stuff stays on all night (this is the tricky part--you want to keep an airtight plastic wrap or plastic bag around his scalp without asphyxiating him.  If the wrap is too lose, it comes right off the first time he turns over in his sleep.)

(6) I think the olive oil mixed with essential oils is the best bet--it's easier to get out of the hair once the cure is done.  Olive oil smells better than either mayonnaise, or--for the determined--industrial strength vaseline, a substance guaranteed to both asphyxiate and drown lice, if you put enough on.  Even if the plastic wrap falls off, the lice are buried in sludge.  Expect damage to your sheets, either way.  The drawback with vaseline is that it takes forever to get it out of the kid's hair.

(7) The night after the cure, you'll need to get a lice comb--the market simply abounds with fancy lice combs that light up the eggs with neon so they're easy to see, but the cheap one from the drugstore works fine.  Get a bowl, put in half water and half white vinegar, and then just keep combing, just keep combing, just keep combing, just keep combing . . . until you feel like Dory, the attention-deficit fish in Captain Nemo.  That should be about long enough to get rid of 'em without Rid.


  1. I've had great success with LiceMD as well. No poisons and I don't have to wait overnight.. I'm impatient :) But I can't agree more about staying away from poisons. My doc said they're getting harder to kill because they're becoming immune.

  2. Whenever possible, asphyxiating them is best . . . heavy vaseline does it but oh is that hard to get out of hair. Often a combo of olive oil, essential oils, a plastic wrap or bag around the scalp, and combing with white vinegar and water works. Also when the lice are dying they do sometimes still hop or move a bit . . . oh, have we been there. Hope we can avoid them!!
    Thanks for commenting!

  3. Hair conditioner asphyxiates them too & is easier to get out. I use a shower cap for overnight, it tends to stay on better.

  4. Wow! And smells better than either mayonnaise or Vaseline, I bet. Thanks. Someone told me hair dye also works, for afflicted moms like myself who dye their graying locks anyway, but I can't swear to that one. Thanks for commenting!

  5. Unfortunately, I had resorted to the Really Big Gun - I ended up shaving both my kids' hair. My son's *and* my daughter's. They were clear to head back to daycare the next day. I just didn't have the time to pick all those buggers (literally) so I went with the fast and foolproof solution.

  6. I had a friend who went through that! The baldy cure. Well, hey, it's summer! They won't catch cold. When my son first had them I did take him for a haircut--we did go close to crew cut and as the hairdresser was clipping a way you could see what looked like hundreds of lice falling to the floor with the hair. I was afraid she'd throw us out but she seemed totally unconcerned. Our next stop was the pediatrician, the one who yelped.

  7. There is, unfortunately, no quick easy "cure" to get rid of these bugs. We've had them a few times in the past year (we meaning, my 9 yr old daughter with long, thick curly hair and me). We get rid of them via combing, combing, combing, only to have one of my daughters friends re-gift these little critters back to us again. Its seems I'm the only parent in the school that treats with a non-toxic solution and then combs nightly until we have a few days with no eggs present. (All under an interrogation light, with my reading glasses on of course.) Oh the hours I've spent combing this year...thank god for the daughter can watch netflix while I comb!

  8. What a nightmare! I've heard of professional nitpickers too, if you ever want to try that. I've found the white vinegar and water combing technique effective, but only after asphyxiating them with oil or Vaseline.