For head lice treatment, your doctor can recommend a medicated shampoo, cream rinse, or lotion to kill the lice. These may be over-the-counter (OTC) or prescription medications, depending on what treatments have already been tried. Medicated lice treatments usually kill the lice and nits, but it may take a few days for the itching to stop.
It’s important to follow the directions exactly because these products are insecticides. Applying too much medication or too frequently can increase the risk of causing harm. Following the directions on the product label is also important to ensure that the treatment works properly.
Treatment may be unsuccessful if the medication is not used correctly or if the lice are resistant to the medication. After treatment, your doctor may suggest combing out the nits with a fine-tooth comb and also may recommend repeating treatment in 7 to 10 days to kill any newly hatched nits.
If your child is 2 years old or under, you should not use medicated lice treatments. You’ll need to remove the nits and lice by hand.
To remove lice and nits by hand, use a fine-tooth comb on your child’s wet, conditioned hair every 3 to 4 days for 2 weeks after the last live louse was seen. Wetting the hair beforehand is recommended because it temporarily immobilizes the lice and the conditioner makes it easier to get a comb through the hair. Wet combing is also an alternative to pesticide treatments in older children. Though petroleum jelly, mayonnaise, or olive oil are sometimes used in an attempt to suffocate head lice, these treatments have not been proven to be effective.
Keep in mind that head lice don’t survive long once they fall off a person. So it’s unnecessary to spend a great deal of time and money trying to rid the house of lice.
Here are some simple ways to get rid of the lice and their eggs, and help prevent a lice reinfestation:
Wash all bed linens and clothing that’s been recently worn by anyone in your home who’s infested in very hot water (130° Fahrenheit, 54.4° Celsius), then put them in the hot cycle of the dryer for at least 20 minutes.
Dry clean any clothing that isn’t machine washable.
Have bed linens, clothing, and stuffed animals and plush toys that can’t be washed dry-cleaned. Or, put them in airtight bags for 2 weeks.
Vacuum carpets and any upholstered furniture (in your home or car).
Soak hair-care items like combs, barrettes, hair ties or bands, headbands, and brushes in rubbing alcohol or medicated shampoo for 1 hour. You can also wash them in hot water or just throw them away.
Because lice are easily passed from person to person in the same house, bedmates and infested family members will also need treatment to prevent the lice from coming back.
In your efforts to get rid of the bugs, there are some things you shouldn’t do. Some don’ts of head lice treatment include:
Don’t use a hair dryer on your child’s hair after applying any of the currently available scalp treatments because some contain flammable ingredients.
Don’t use a cream rinse or shampoo/conditioner combination before applying lice medication.
Don’t wash your child’s hair for 1 to 2 days after using a medicated treatment.
Don’t use sprays or hire a pest control company to try to get rid of the lice, as they can be harmful.
Don’t use the same medication more than three times on one person. If it doesn’t seem to be working, your doctor may recommend another medication.
Don’t use more than one head lice medication at a time.
September is Head Lice Prevention Month and although Modern Pest Services doesn’t treat head lice, we do receive many questions from concerned parents about the topic throughout the school year. The head lice articles were posted on our blog to help educate you and answer some of your more common questions.
Reviewed by: Mary L. Gavin, MD
Date reviewed: September 2008
Note: All information on KidsHealth® is for educational purposes only. For specific medical advice, diagnoses, and treatment, consult your doctor.
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