Help! My Child Has Head Lice!

As a parent you will inevitably receive the dreaded school message, "Luizen gevonden, controleer het haar van uw kinderen." The dreaded head lice drama! Take a deep breath and read a few tips on how to treat lice and nits.

Relocating to the Netherlands from Australia, for our little family, meant that we’d be (relatively) safe from snakes, sharks, spiders and super-deadly koalas and kangaroos. As absurd as it was, I also decided that Europe would be mosquito-and-lice-free.

Even Queen Maxima was herself a registered luizen moeder (mum who checks for lice) when her children were in school; lice make themselves at home in royal hair as easily as anyone's! 

This, of course, is not true. I discovered that schools here do regular lice-checks, both private and public. Even Queen Maxima was a registered luizen moeder (mum who checks for lice) when her children were in school; lice make themselves at home in royal hair as easily as anyone's! 

Depending on the school and the opinion of teachers, if a child is found to have lice parents are called, sirens go blaring, and cones of shame are brought out to mark the area that lice are found ... Well not quite, but you get the gist.

Lice

Luizen!

Mothers familiar to this dreaded word usually react in dramatic and immediate ways. My mother would burst into tears. Homes in 1980s Malaysia were not equipped with hot water taps, and our humble home did not come with a washing machine. She’d have to boil all the sheets and towels and clothes, one kettle at a time. I remember turning up to school wearing the turban of shame; a shower cap reeking of kerosene, which was doused all over my scalp and hair. Now, as a mother of two girls, I instantly break out in shivers and goosebumps. My head develops a severe itch, lice or no lice! I immediately want to pick the nits out, strand by strand, never mind my girls’ need for sustenance, sun or water - getting rid of the lice is my priority!

My youngest recently came back from school scratching her head. It was reasonably intermittent, so I thought nothing of it until I saw live lice on her scalp. My precious stash of tea-tree oil products from Australia is now depleted! But this is just one treatment of the suggested three!

Amsterdam Mamas on Facebook helpfully steered me to Prioderm, sold in EtosPrioderm is an ethanol-based, chemical product. Dimeticon Lotion is also an option. When applied to the hair, the ethanol evaporates, and the chemical stays as a layer over the scalp, which suffocates the lice and burns the top layer off the nits. After 15 minutes (more like 2 hours), the hair is rinsed, and then the nits are painstakingly combed out with a lice comb.

The Anatomy of a Nit (Egg of a Female Louse)

The nit is attached to a strand of hair, near the scalp. The louse attaches its egg with specialised saliva that forms a tail. When you remove a nit and look at it closely, there is always a tail, which is very hard to remove. It does not dissolve in chemicals nor hot water nor coconut oil or conditioner. Nits need to be physically extricated from the strand of hair, with a lice-comb or your nails. 

When removed, you need to remember to squish the nit. If the nymph (infant louse) hasn’t hatched, you will hear the nit pop. I place the nit on a hard surface and make sure I squish it with my thumbnail.

Facts on Lice and Nits

  • The warmth of the scalp is the optimum environment for nits, and if lice are removed from the hair and can no longer feed off the scalp, they usually die within a day. 
  • While 'officially' this is not mandated as necessary, it is wise to prevent reinfestation by hot-water washing bed sheets, pillow cases, towels and headgear.
  • Coconut oil does not work to treat or prevent lice.
  • Found one nit? That means there are more. Vigilance is needed with rigorous hair-checking for two weeks. 
  • Some creepy lice maths...females lay about three or four eggs per day. So 2 lice = 8 new eggs. 4 days of not detecting them = 32 nits!
  • Nits must be manually removed. If the nits have been treated but not removed, they will eventually disintegrate, but that can take up to 6 months.
  • Most treatments for lice require a 3-part repetitive process for 3 weeks to ensure life cycles of lice and nits are really dealt with.
  • Lice become resistant to lice medication, so best go through the hair every other night (after treatment) to check for nits.


Treatment Options

DIY

To treat your child(ren): Sit your child down in front of the TV after rinsing the chemical product off the hair and slowly go through the hair with a lice comb. Amsterdam Mamas recommends the Nitty Gritty Lice Comb. Clean the comb thoroughly after each use.

Bribe a Friend

Treating your own hair is not a DIY project. Bribe a friend with lunch, a nice bottle of red, a delicious Parmesan from Italy, or a diamond…whatever it takes, to do a thorough nit-removal job on your head.

Lice Clinics 

This is a pricey option, but they are thorough. Luizenkliniek is one such facility here in Amsterdam. An Amsterdam Mama says that there is a heat treatment that will get rid of all the lice and nits in an hour with a lice-free guarantee. If the lice return within a week, they’ll do it again for free.

Another Amsterdam Mama suggests washing the hair with Dreft dish soap!  Or, you just become a social pariah for about 2 months.

 

Prevention of Head Lice

  • Some say that dabbing tea tree oil around your child’s head and nape can prevent lice infestation.
  • Spray your child’s head before releasing them into the classroom. XT Luis Protect & Go Spray from Etos is one such product. 
  • Teach your children not to share combs, brushes, hats, or earmuffs. I teach my daughters that those items are ‘personal things’. Toys, crayons and snacks are ‘share things’.
  • Shave your head.

For more information on treating and preventing head lice, please check the official Netherlands health info page. Liceworld also offers some great FAQ.

 

 

 

                                                                                                                                 

 


Audrey Coggins is a Malaysian Chinese and Australian mother of two girls, a recent import to the Netherlands, trying to understand the difference between w and v and ui and oo and ou. She also hates lice. And teenage hormones. And My Little Pony. But mostly lice.


Photo Credit: Copyright permission for the image of the lifecycle of the lice and the close up of the nit has been granted by Liceworld 2019. Head spa image by nomura8080 from Pixabay. Daughter's image by Audrey Coggins

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