10/02/2014

If you can't be with the comb you love, use the comb you're with.

I've recommended specialty lice combs on this blog because combs designed for the task of lice and nit picking - combs with long, rigid, tight metal teeth - save you a lot of time.  But what if you don't have access to an actual metal lice comb?  Grab the comb you do have. If it has teeth that are narrow and close together (i.e. not a hair pick), it can still have some effectiveness. The more rigid the teeth the better. Wet, condition, and detangle the hair. Then start combing.  If  you have large egg-laying bugs on your head, you should still be able to comb out a lot of them out.  This is still progress. Get the better comb when you can but for now, just get busy.

You probably need information more than you need a professional.

Though I am not doing home lice removal services at this time, I am still getting many requests for visits.  As I've said before, a lice removal professional is handy but not a necessity when dealing with head lice.  If you can pay to have someone to clean your home, cook your meals, and dry clean all your clothes, then you probably have enough breathing room in your budget to hire a lice professional.  But, if you, like most of us out there, would rather spend your hard-earned money on almost anything else, then I think you should deal with your head lice on your own.  Or grab a friend to walk this journey with you.  If you ever called me in the days when I was taking calls, you know that I spent most of my time encouraging people to deal with head lice on their own.  I mean, if you choose to hire a head lice professional, you'll still need to do your own checking and combing on a regular basis anyway.  Read articles on this blog, check out the links, and get informed.  Trust that with the right information, you can do this.

Another thing I get frequently asked about is what products I endorse.  While I don't have any connection to particular products, I have good things to say about effective metal lice combs such as the Licemeister and the Nit Free Terminator.  But that doesn't mean that you have to have one of these combs.  I also have good things to say about the generic metal, purple-handled, cheap, dual-sided comb that sells at my local Wal-Mart. It's the comb I use. If you find a metal comb that has teeth that are long, very rigid, and close together, then I'm sure it will have some effectiveness and get the job done over time. 

Lice removal should be accessible, inexpensive, and easy to do.  Don't think that you have to trouble yourself by ordering items from far away, travelling a long distance to get to a lice professional, or spending buckets of money on so-called "treatments".  If you are not a lice expert now, you will be once you read the research and have tried a few days of wet combing. If there are services or products you want to try and you have more than enough money to spend on them, go for it.  But if you are sacrificing your schedule, budget, or sanity to acquire these things, know that they aren't necessary.  Your time might be better spent by grabbing the comb closest to you and getting started on that wet combing.  Your money might be better spent by renting that new video you've been wanting to see to watch while doing it.

9/24/2014

Question period...

Many questions have come up in recent comments and conversations. I think that there are others that might have similar questions, so I thought I'd answer some questions here to the best of my ability.

Question: I combed and got rid of the lice but found no nits.  Am I lice free?

Answer: Where there's smoke there's usually fire and where there's lice, there are usually nits.  Not always, but you should keep on wet combing every few days just in case a missed nit turns into a unwanted bug.  When you have been regularly combing for 2 weeks with no new bug sightings, that's when I think you can breathe a sigh of relief and reduce your combing to routine lice checking.

Question: Two months ago we had head lice and we beat it but now my daughter has it again.  Why?

Answer: I don't know.  Either something was missed the last time your daughter had lice or she just got it again from someone else.  Beating lice once doesn't mean that you will never get lice again.  Just take a breath and start combing.  Remember, don't waste your time on ineffective busy work - no extra laundry washing, vacuuming, or bagging up toys.  Just get those suckers off the head.

Question: Is there anything I can do to prevent from getting head lice?

Answer:

How many studies will we need before we see pyrethrin/permethrin as ineffective with head lice?

These are the related pesticides in products such as Nix and R&C.  I don't know how many studies we will need before our health professionals stop recommending these products but here's another one. It basically says that almost all North American lice have developed a genetic resistance to this pesticide.  Please, please, please don't waste your money on it. The effectiveness quoted in the pamphlets of these products was true when they first came out in the 1980s but our overuse of these products have made them almost useless now.  The last line of this study's abstract says, "Alternative approaches to treatment of head lice infestations are critically needed." Enough said.

Hair Conditioner - fights more than split ends!

If you have ever had head lice, and I am assuming that you are acquainted with it since your reading this blog, then you know that nits are a pain to remove.  Lice eggs and egg shells are cemented to the hair so well that they can be stuck on the hair long after the lice are gone.  This is one reason why I dislike no-nit policies - they don't take this into account. I am sure that many a child has been sent home from school because a nit was seen when no actual lice were present.  The only way to be sure you have head lice is to actually find one on the head.  I have gone into homes where parents found some nits but no lice - and I didn't find any lice either.  The nits were usually a few inches away from the hair shaft, indicating that they had been laid long ago,  and I then had the good fortune to tell the parents the child had lice at one point but for some reason doesn't any more.

This problem of cemented nits has spawned an small industry of products claiming to dissolve the substance that glues the nits to the hair shaft.  Sprays, rinses, creams - you can find many that claim to loosen or remove nits.  Probably the most common home remedy that I have seen people use for nit removal is vinegar.  Have you ever had vinegar in your eyes?  The kids whose parents gave them a vinegar rinse are not usually appreciative of this technique. 

As you may know, I feel the best way to remove lice, eggs, and shells is manually.  I recommend using a good metal lice comb (with very rigid teeth, such as the Licemeister or the Nit Free Terminator).  But I also recommend wetting the hair and slathering it in cheap hair conditioner.  This process of wet combing is proven to greatly increase your chances of lice detection and it is a non-pesticidal and effective way to remove lice and nits.  The conditioner helps the hair remain wet (slowing down the lice), makes it easier for the hair to stay detangled, and allows the comb to glide through the hair more smoothly.  I always recommend the cheapest conditioner because you may need a lot of conditioner and beating head lice should never break your budget.

Interestingly, hair conditioner was part of a head lice study that came out this past spring.  The study was called "Efficacy of Products to Remove Eggs of Pediculus humanus capitis (Phthiraptera: Pediculidae) from the Human Hair". You can read the study's abstract here. In other words, it compared different products that made claims that they removed lice eggs from the hair shaft. The conclusion? Egg removal was significantly helped with just water and hair conditioner.  Specialty products were no more effective than these simple tools and some substances had no effect at all. 

So, join me in buying that vat of generic conditioner from your local dollar store. This is just one more example of how effective does not have to mean expensive.

4/08/2014

More great information...

Here is a link to a great information source.  It is a health bulletin on head lice from the Cardiff and Vale University Health Board in Wales.  It gives links to great research and what I love about it is that it includes wet combing as a main treatment in the fight against head lice: http://www.wmic.wales.nhs.uk/pdfs/bulletins/Head%20Lice%20Bulletin%20Jan%202014.pdf 
While this publication also gives lots of information about chemical lice "treatments" (and you know I don't recommend them), it at least does not recommend products with permithrin (in Canada, this would be Nix which in my experience is the most prescribed lice treatment by health professionals).  I like that this article says that you don't have head lice if you don't find a live louse on the head.  (Old nits can stick around for a long time and do not indicate an active case of head lice.) Around wet combing, I have some different opinions than what is presented in this document - for instance, I have personally found metal combs to be more effective and I see no need to shampoo before a wet combing unless you want to.  I also much prefer the use of conditioner over vegetable oils - conditioner is much less messy, smells so much better, and rinces from the hair easily, whereas vegetable oils often don't come out without a stronger detergent such as dish soap. 
 
This publication mentions chemical treatments that are mechanical.  What this means is that they don't kill the lice and eggs by poisoning them.  (Nix and other permethrin based products do this - they are neurotoxins and the lice can adapt to these poisons over time.)  Mechanical treatments coat the lice and eggs and kill by either drying out the shell of the bug or egg or by plugging up the openings (mouth and anus) of the bug.  The idea is that because the animal is not affected by ingesting the product, they won't build a resistance to it. This may be a selling feature but I have been to many homes where all treatments we have available in Canada, including mechanical chemical treatments,  have been tried according to the product directions and living lice were still found.  Because the chemicals are not 100% effective, because they are costly, and because they all recommend manual lice removal to occur along with the treatment, I just think we should skip the unnecessary step and focus on the treatment that is readily available, cheap, and effective:  Multiple wet combings over time until there are no new sightings of lice or their eggs.  This document says that you can stop combing when you have had 3 thorough combings where no lice or eggs were found. On this blog, I say that you should have 2 weeks of combings with no sightings of lice or their eggs before you can say you are lice free.  If the 3 combings listed in this document are 4 days apart from each other as recommended, it means you have to comb and find nothing for 12 days.  12 days.  Two weeks.  Almost the same deal.
 
Anyway, this bulletin is a nice, research based overview that for once does not say that lice are spread in hats and bedding.  Check it out. 

4/07/2014

The comb is only as good as its user.

Here's a blurry picture of my cheap but good purple lice comb that I bought at Wal-Mart for under $10.  I got to use it this evening. Tonight my daughter had a wonderful friend over.  The friend was scratching her head at supper time so I asked about her head lice - my daughter told me she had been dealing with it.  This girl said that her parent said her hair would be cut right off if they didn't get a handle on the lice soon.  I offered to do a combing.  After supper, we put on a movie (Puss In Boots) and got to work.  She sat on a stool I sat on the couch behind her.  I sprayed her hair with water, conditioned it, detangled it with a brush, and then started combing with the lice comb.  Hundreds of eggs. Dozens and dozens of bugs.  As I was combing, I told this friend that I would be sending the lice comb home with her so she could continue combing every couple of days.  I was surprised at her response.

"Oh, we have that comb."

Upon talking to the parent later, I found out that comb had been used a couple of times but was then set aside because they didn't feel it was doing the job. Now, this girl had quite a lot of lice, so I do not know how the comb was being used or if it had really been used at all.  I must mention that this parent is not neglectful. Time, energy, and money had been put into this problem; the parent tried to deal with the child's head lice by giving the child a lice "treatment', doing extra laundry, and spraying the furniture with some supposed lice-killing chemical. Attention was given to the problem.  However, the problem didn't go away and for some reason, the lice comb was not really given a chance.

But it's the lice comb that works.  So-called "treatments" and "shampoos" will not solve the problem. Spraying furniture does nothing. The key to beating head lice is combing over time.  I told this parent to bring out the comb again and to comb every couple of days for a couple of weeks.  The combing sessions don't have to be marathons - even just combing for a 1/2 hour every couple of days will lead to success.

If you are dealing with head lice, stop looking for the quick fix.  Get combing and keep on combing until the lice and nits are gone.  If the chemical treatments worked, I would recommend them, but they don't.  A lice comb may not seem like a very snazzy solution and may not make the promises of a lice "shampoo", but it is simply your best tool in the fight against head lice.

11/04/2013

I thought it was just dandruff...

When I ask parents when they first noticed their child's head lice, it usually becomes clear that the signs of head lice were present long before the parents would like to admit.  They say things like, "Sure, my daughter's head was really itchy, but I thought it was just because of dandruff" or "My son's been taking swimming lessons and I thought his head was itchy from the chlorine".  Sometimes, these parents have had no experience with head lice or they never knew anyone who had it so the possibility of head lice doesn't even come to mind.  However, many parents  are just in denial about head lice because they don't want to have to deal with it.  Later they tell me, "I thought it might be head lice but I didn't do anything at first because I was too busy" or "I knew that her friend at school had recently had head lice but I didn't think it would happen to my child".

In my house we have a rule - if you scratch your head, you get a quick spot check.  It is even true for me - if I scratch my head, my youngest daughter says, "Mom, c'mere. Let me take a look."  And these spot checks, because they are not always reliable, are still done in conjunction with weekly wet combing checks. Of course, someone's head is really, really itchy, they get a wet combing check right away. (I should mention that routine combings will often prevent the itchiness of head lice. Most people are asymptomatic - they don't get an itch - until they've had head lice for quite a while.  Routine combings will often find the bugs before the itching starts.  It happened to me!)

If someone is itchy, investigate. If you find that you or your child do have a lot of dandruff, use a dandruff shampoo to remove the dandruff before doing a check for head lice. With head lice, you need time to be on your side and the sooner you find the little critters, the sooner you can get rid of them. 

10/19/2013

Of all the human parasites, head lice is the one you want.

I love talking with people about head lice.  Think Bubba in 'Forest Gump' talking about shrimp or Harlan Pepper in 'Best in Show' naming nuts.  I just love talking about head lice.  However, it seems like the conversations that people have with me about head lice turn to talk about other parasites...bed bugs and scabies.  And in my mind, these parasites are a whole different ball game. I once heard someone say, "I'd rather have bed bugs than lice.  At least they don't live on your body."  My response was something calm and rational like, "ARE YOU KIDDING ME!?!?"

Head lice, though they live on your body, are simple to treat.  Just get the bugs and the eggs off the head.  They won't survive for very long off of it.  If you forget the hype and look at the research then you know that you can deal with them relatively quickly and for little cost.  You don't have to worry about your home, belongings, or clothing. Head lice are a pain but the problem is still quite contained and manageable.

Bed bugs are different.  They can reside almost anywhere in your home. They can live without a host for a year. As with head lice, they are manageable but are much harder and more expensive to treat and usually require a home treatment of some kind which is costly.  You often have to replace some furniture.  If you are dealing with bed bugs, I highly recommend that you talk to a professional exterminator - even if you don't use them, they might help you get your facts straight and equip you with the knowledge to help yourself.

Scabies are different.  They live under your skin.  They are microscopic.  They are contagious. Most doctors diagnose scabies based on the skin reaction - you usually need to get a skin scraping from a dermatologist to get an actual proper diagnosis.  With scabies, our only line of defense is pesticide and even after treating yourself and everyone in your household,  it is still difficult to be sure if you have actually beaten it. You have to do laundry, vacuuming, cleaning. Dealing with scabies is real work. You can beat scabies but it can be cost and labour intensive.

Other lice, like body lice and pubic lice (crabs), are pretty easy to treat.  Got body lice? Wash your clothes in hot water, dry them on high heat, always wear clean clothes, keep yourself clean. Got crab lice? Well, you might not find a buddy to remove them manually, so it might be easier to try the pesticidal cream which is still effective on these little critters.

With any of these parasites, we have to push back the paranoia and get informed. We need to stop giving energy to action that doesn't actually work and be willing to work on doing what is actually effective. Keep things in perspective - these parasites just create an itch. They are an uncomfortable inconvenience, not a life threatening situation.  We can handle that, can't we?  Still, I want to stick up for the little pediculosis capitis. The little head louse is hearty and resilient but it also has its weaknesses.  Even without a comb, we can remove lice and nits faster then an adult louse can lay them, so we always have the advantage in the fight. If I had to choose between parasites, I'd always pick head lice - because it is the only one I can actually pick.

8/11/2013

What's the least you can do to feel sane?

Last spring, my friend's daughter got head lice.  Naturally, my friend called me for reassurance. Though my friend and I have had many discussions about head lice, her perspective on head lice changed when it actually made an appearance in her own house.

She said, "I know that the research says that doing cleaning won't help. But I want to clean.  I want to vacuum everything, including the children. I want to do laundry.  It would make me feel better."

I like a clean home as much as the next person, but I know the cleaning marathons that are triggered by the discovery of head lice.  All other activity (including sleep) is discontinued in and out of the home.  What's worse is that people actually cut back on the time they spend in lice combing because they are too exhausted from their newly adopted morning-to-night rituals (get kids up, strip beds, throw bedding in wash, vacuum mattresses, vacuum room, throw pajamas in wash, throw pillows in the dryer...all before the morning coffee.) Though NONE of this helps, I understand that it is our natural survival instincts that get us moving in a crisis.  Being busy makes us feel better.  Knowing the panic that ensues in a home that just discovers these uninvited guests, I asked my friend a question:

"What is the LEAST you can do to still feel sane?"

My friend already knew that she needed to put the time and effort into a thorough wet combing of her daughter's head every couple of days over the next 2 weeks and that this would already give her plenty of work to do.  But in her mind, she wanted to do more.  In answer to my question, she said, "The pillows.  I think my rational mind would let me give up most of the cleaning, but I know I couldn't rest if I didn't change my daughter's pillow case every day." 

"Ok, as long as you know that this activity will have no effect on your daughter's head lice, right?"

"I know."

So my friend resisted the demon of excessive cleaning and even stopped changing the pillowcase after a couple of days.  She used no chemical treatments and simply used a proper metal lice comb on her daughter's wet, conditioned hair.  Though she combed over a 2 week period, no lice or eggs were seen after the 3rd combing. When I congratulated her on the success of her efforts, she admitted that she had doubted that the solution could be so simple.  (Simple but not easy; even though things get easier and faster as you go, keeping up with the combing is still a pain in the arse.) I asked her why she stopped washing her pillowcases every day.  She said that as she did more combings, her confidence in her own abilities to detect and remove the bugs and eggs grew every day.  She was pleased that I had steered her away from doing more and being less effective.

If you have just discovered head lice in your home, get informed before you do or spend anything. If you are reading this blog for the first time, check out the other posts.  Learn about wet combing. Read the research links.  Think with your head based on the most current knowledge and try not to give into cleaning urges.  But if you just can't resist, then choose your battles wisely.  Ask yourself the question, "What is the least I can do to feel sane?" Not the least you can do in the combing/picking department - nothing will relieve you of this necessary task - but what is the least you can do in the home. Less time cleaning means more time combing. Get a good comb, do the combing, and trust the process.