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Dealing with the Dreaded Call: Your Child Has Lice

Now that kids are back in school, some parents are getting the dreaded phone call. When kids start scratching their heads and lice are detected, parents are called to come get their children, take them home and treat them. Many schools don’t permit kids to come back until they are nit free.

One mother wrote:

“My child picked up lice last year at his elementary school. I had never come across lice before so I freaked out. I ran to the drug store and bought the over-the-counter lice treatment.

“Though I tried it twice, neither attempt was even remotely successful. Besides, I worry that the stuff is toxic.

“Then I came across a mention of Listerine (amber). While combing my son’s hair I found a louse that I put in a small container with some Listerine. Within a few minutes it was deader than a doornail.

“That convinced me. I soaked my son’s head with Listerine, put a shower cap on him and left it for two hours. Then I combed and combed with a metal nit comb. I repeated that process every other night and that solved our problem.”

As this mother noted, over-the-counter products have become less effective because the lice have developed resistance. This leads to a lot of frustration and a search for other options.

A mother wrote from Australia:

“I have three kids with waist-length thick curly hair. Over the last three months we have been battling head lice from a sleepover. We tried everything: Rid, Nix, even prescription lindane. (It was terrifying to read the label on that stuff.)

“Just when I thought we finally had it under control, school started and I got a call from the school nurse; we were re-infested and the school said out of 90 students, 30 were sent home with head lice! What worked at last was this:

“1. Have the child lean backwards over the sink and drench the head in Listerine. Wring the excess out of the hair and put a plastic shower cap on the head.

“2. After an hour, when you take the shower cap off, you will see dead lice stuck inside the shower cap. Get the child into the shower and work some good conditioner through the hair. Use the shower sprayer with one hand and comb through the hair with the other. The lice will fall out onto the shower floor, all dead.

“3. Rinse the scalp with white vinegar. We left it in for a few minutes, then lightly rinsed with conditioner again.

“4. Towel-dry the hair and then comb, comb, comb. The nits will easily comb out with a nit comb, because the vinegar loosens them up.

“5. Re-do this whole process in about a week.”

Parents have also used the non-soap cleanser Cetaphil (cetyl alcohol) with good results. Here’s one story:

“The Cetaphil treatment works very well. I applied three treatments at one-week intervals to my daughter’s hair, first drenching it and then blow-drying it.

“After just the first treatment, I couldn’t find any more lice in her hair. One Cetaphil treatment kills all the lice, but not the nits, which is why it needs to be repeated.”

More details on these and other lice remedies can be found at www.PeoplesPharmacy.com. Despite the difficulty of overcoming resistant lice, they can be defeated with patience and persistence.

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About the Author
Terry Graedon, PhD, is a medical anthropologist and co-host of The People’s Pharmacy radio show, co-author of The People’s Pharmacy syndicated newspaper columns and numerous books, and co-founder of The People’s Pharmacy website. Terry taught in the Duke University School of Nursing and was an adjunct assistant professor in the Department of Anthropology. She is a Fellow of the Society of Applied Anthropology. Terry is one of the country's leading authorities on the science behind folk remedies..
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