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The Little Buggers: Dealing With Head Lice

Child with head lice
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Jane McKenna weighs in on the inevitable scourge of lice once your kids head off to school…

You’ll never forget the first time your kids get lice. It’s cemented even more in your memory than the first time you got the little buggers yourself – probably because you were approximately four at the time and pretty much oblivious. I recall my mother sighing “I’ll get the comb” on a few occasions, before she conceded to having my hair hacked off to minimise further infestations.

As for my own children, well, the older one was good enough to wait until he was in first class. The note came home in the bag informing us of an outbreak. On the way home from school, I popped into the chemist and quietly mumbled “Can you give me something for head lice, please.” He squinted, and before he could boom “WELL, THIS ONE IS GOOD FOR NITS, BUT IT DOESN’T COME WITH A COMB”, I pointed wildly at the Lyclear and two lice combs (a cream one to see the lice, and a metal one to see the never-ending nits). I’m not sure why I was embarrassed; lice attack irrespective of cleanliness… When we got home, I started digging around the nape of the child’s neck to see an army of them merrily marching around. Then, mummy got to work as per the instructions. We had a lice-banishing party when Daddy got home some hours later, because delousing a spouse is the highlight of many a marriage.

When the younger one suffered her first infestation, I wasn’t as prepared. Yes, it can happen when they’re in creche. We were returning home on the train from town one Sunday evening when I saw some black specks in her hair. I thought “sand”, and brushed them away. Some of the specs didn’t budge. And then one casually crawled over on to her ear. A wave of panic surged. Before it crashed, I threw the child over the shoulder, fled the train, and hailed a taxi for the nearest chemist. Shut. It was a bank holiday. There was only one thing for it – get oldskool with the contents of the condiments cupboard.

Thankfully I still had the combs from the previous ‘party’. I boiled them in water for 10 minutes (just to be sure), and logged onto the internet to find out if olive oil or mayonnaise was more effective, or whether I was needlessly about to turn the child’s head into a pasta salad. As it turns out, olive oil is a goer as it’s not as “messy.” One site suggested coating the comb in the olive oil rather than the head itself, making shampooing afterwards less fraught.

Another pointer was Essential Oils; specifically Tea Tree (tip: put a drop on the back of the child’s hand to check for any reaction). Another site jovially informed me that “hair dryer heat is effective in killing most but not all the live lice and nits!”, but I didn’t fancy scalding the her head. Another chirruped: “All you need to do is comb your child’s hair with a lice comb every morning and night for three weeks!” Convenient. It was straight down to the chemist Tuesday morning for whatever ‘ONCE’ treatment they had. How did our mothers cope?

For those of you wondering how you can avoid the scourge of lice – you can’t. You could make your child wear their very own lice avoidance helmet to school, but that won’t do much for their social skills. Kids will hug. They will share hair bobbins and hats. They will lie on the grass, heads welded together, looking at the sky. They should do all these things. It’s just good to know that there are products available that don’t require you to spend the rest of your waking hours combing hair. There’s only one golden rule to dealing with head lice – go to the chemist NOW, right NOW, and stock up on an emergency supply of everything in the arsenal.

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