How to prevent lice

Kids at school and in childcare settings are going to play. And their play may lead to the spread of head lice. However, you can take steps to prevent the spread of lice among children and adults. Here are some tips on how to prevent the spread of lice:

  1. Don’t share items that touch the head like combs or towels.
  2. Avoid activities that lead to head-to-head contact.
  3. Keep belongings, especially upper body clothing, away from shared areas like coat closets.

Read on to learn more about these prevention techniques and what to do if your child does catch head lice.

To reduce the chance of you or your child catching a case of head lice, start by not sharing items that touch the head.

It may be tempting to share personal belongings, especially for kids, but lice can crawl from an object to your head. Avoid sharing:

  • combs and brushes
  • hair clips and accessories
  • hats and bike helmets
  • scarves and coats
  • towels
  • headsets and earbuds

When kids play, they may naturally place their heads close together. But if your child’s friend has head lice, your young one may come home with it.

Ask your child to avoid games and activities that lead to head-to-head contact with classmates and other friends. Adults, especially those who work with children, would be wise to follow the same principle.

Put long hair in a ponytail or braid. A small amount of hair spray may help contain stray hair.

Shared spaces and shared belongings can be breeding grounds for lice. Closets, lockers, drawers, and common clothes hooks can create an easy opportunity for lice to pass from one person’s things to another’s.

Ask your child to keep their belongings — especially hats, coats, scarves, and other clothing —out of common areas. For safety’s sake, adults should take similar precautions.

It’s not always easy to know who has head lice and who doesn’t. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), sometimes it can take up to six weeks for those with lice to experience symptoms such as itching.

Other times, a parent will notice that a child has head lice before it’s an epidemic. When you know someone has lice, be sure that you and your child avoid touching their furniture, beds, clothing, and towels.

Schools may report a head lice infestation so that parents can take preventive measures with their families. If this happens, take action as soon as possible. Look in your child’s hair for small white nits, the eggs of lice. Inspect your child’s clothes — particularly hats, shirts, scarves, and coats — that have been worn during the past 48 hours, looking for lice and eggs.

When your child’s school reports a head lice infestation, you can also:

  • Check household items that are more likely to get infested with lice and their eggs, such as towels, bedding, and rugs.
  • Be sure your child knows the importance of not sharing any items that touch the head or ears.
  • Explain what lice are, and why your child should avoid touching heads with other children until the school has contained the problem.

According to the Mayo Clinic, more research is needed to prove the effectiveness and safety of over-the-counter (OTC) medicines that claim to prevent lice.

A few studies have suggested certain ingredients in OTC products may repel lice. These ingredients include:

  • rosemary
  • lemongrass
  • tea tree
  • citronella
  • eucalyptus

These products aren’t regulated or approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

When people, especially kids, come into close contact or share belongings, lice can easily pass from one person to another. This is true even if you teach children good hygiene and practice it yourself. But by taking some precautions, you may be able to prevent your child from getting or spreading lice.