So, talk of head lice is circulating… seemingly all of the time these days, right? And your blood pressure soars over the thought of it. But what the heck is it, anyway? And what exactly are you supposed to be looking for? Well, grab those reading glasses and some really good light (sunlight is excellent) and let’s get serious about how to properly check for head lice—because treating it early on is A LOT easier than treating it later on. (Please don’t count on your school nurse to do this correctly, even though she means well!)
Before we go over the step-by-step, here are some cootie clues you should be looking out for all year long:
THE ITCHIES: If your child has lice, chances are, the first sign you’ll see is a lot of scratching. But don’t bank on this clue, because I’ve treated plenty of incredibly infested children who promise me that they weren’t the least bit itchy.
THE EGG HUNT: A more reliable clue is an egg sighting (aka NIT). The female louse lays 3-10 of these tiny, white-ish, almond shaped eggs a day. She deposits them about 1/8” away from the scalp on the hairshaft. To help you distinguish an egg from other hair debris, picture the stem of a flower (that would be the strand of hair), and then picture a leaf on that stem (that would be the egg). The egg is actually attached on an angle to one side of a single strand of hair. And it is stuck there like nobody’s business—meaning you will not be able to blow or shake it off.
You can remove the egg by sliding it to the end of the strand of hair with your fingernail. When you take it off and lay it on a white paper towel, you will notice that it is actually a tan color, not white. It looks white-ish in the hair because the shell is clear and it reflects light.
Important: Nits never wrap all the way around a strand of hair. They are always attached on one side.
THE CULPRIT: The bug itself. If you’re like me—and ignore the itching, miss the eggs and say Hail Marys, it may just present itself. We caught one on a piece of tape, Googled it, and declared it a match (and then cried, of course). It’ll be grayish to brownish in color, have six legs, no wings and at its largest size, be a little smaller than an ant.
THE CHECK: Try to do this once a week during the school year. Always use direct, bright lighting, and a magnifier helps, too.
For long hair: Divide into two ponytails. Take one side and halve that ponytail. Have your child rest her head on a flat surface with sectioned ear “up”. Unclasp the exposed back section and hold it in your hand. Use a fine-toothed plastic comb and feather through—starting at the nape and slowly working your way up the hairline to the back of the ear, letting small amounts of hair fall slowly as you fan through. Once the back section is checked, re-clasp it and have your child sit upright. Release the front section and hold it in your hand. Slowly fan through the front section, releasing hair slowly working from behind the ear up the hairline and across the
forehead. Repeat this process on the other half. See video demo.
For short hair: Have your child rest his head on a flat surface face down, resting on hands. Use a fine-toothed plastic comb and slowly “back comb” his hair from the hairline of the nape up. Make sure to follow the hairline all the way around to the back of each ear. Once you get to the ear, have your child sit upright, facing you and slowly “back comb” his hair from his forehead to the crown of his head. Follow his hairline from ear to ear in the front. See video demo.