My husband was the first to notice.
Early one morning, Chris saw our 7-year-old daughter vigorously scratching her head. Upon inspection, he pulled out something the size of a sesame seed: a louse.
Neither my husband nor I had ever had lice, and we had no idea what to do. Chris started pacing, convinced we’d have to shave off Lucy’s beautiful long, curly blonde hair. I did what any modern parent does in a crisis: I Googled “lice treatment Phoenix.”
I clicked on the first option, and before I knew it, I was on the phone with the LiceDoctors national call center. They were sending a technician to our home ASAP.
In the meantime, I called the kids’ elementary school to report them absent. I fibbed about why they were missing class. I was mortified.
Lice are dirty, gross and pretty much every heebee-jeebee moment you could imagine. And we were embarrassed.
I later joked we were sure the technician would pull up to our house, lights flashing, with a “LICE EMERGENCY” wrap on the vehicle, spreading a firestorm of gossip around the neighborhood. While we waited, we got busy stripping beds and throwing any and all linens into the wash — scratching phantom itches anytime we remembered why we were doing this.
When our technician, Deborah, arrived a few hours later — thankfully, in an unmarked car — we instantly felt a sense of hope. Her humor put us at ease. When she first inspected Lucy, she informed us the lice were so big and full grown, it would be rude of us not to include them in our family Christmas photo.
Deborah quickly set up her equipment in our kitchen and began full inspections on every family member except our dog. (Lice can only live on human scalps, she said). She used a nit comb and olive oil (to submerge and suffocate the lice and eggs) and a fancy lamp to magnify the scalp.
Complicating matters, Chris was supposed to be hopping a plane for a work trip, and we were certain he’d be spreading an epidemic. He was quickly inspected and given an “all clear,” and he was able to head to the airport.
That left me with the kids and the lice. The entire time Deborah treated Lucy’s hair, she was educating me on everything I needed to know — the life cycle of lice, how and why hair needs to be combed out, why disinfecting the house from top to bottom is unnecessary (lice need a human scalp to stay alive), and why it is important to continue a lice-treatment regimen for days or weeks.
Although the upfront cost of having a technician come to our home was pricey (a little more than $300 for our family of four to be checked and one to be treated), the expense was worth it for the knowledge and peace of mind we gained. We were reimbursed for the expense through our health spending account.
As directed, we continued treatment for three weeks to ensure every louse — at any stage in its life cycle — was eliminated from Lucy’s hair.
Fast forward a year to a new grade, and a new classroom of kids.
We noticed Lucy scratching some of the “hot zones” near her ears and at the nape of her neck. We quickly threw ourselves into “lice patrol.”
Chris and Jack stripped beds and linens. Lucy prepared for the comb-out by grabbing her homework and a coloring book to keep herself busy during the time-consuming process: drenching the hair in olive oil, and section by section, combing each hair strand with a nit comb.
This time, we didn’t find big bugs, but we did find a couple of nits. After treating the whole family, I began making the rounds, texting family, friends and Lucy’s teacher to give them all a heads up to be on the lookout.
This is probably the trickiest step of the process.
After the first week of treating Lucy’s hair, I was no longer embarrassed to tell people she had had lice. I actually started to tell everyone, because I was damn sure we didn’t want to get it back. All of the work that goes into ridding lice from the scalp and hair is a process, and if it is not done correctly, lice spreads.
During courtesy calls to parents, I pleaded with them to check for lice, treat it (if necessary) and continue the checking process. I even offered to check other people’s kids!
I was taken aback by the number of families that claimed to have dealt with lice, but who did not treat it correctly. The term “super lice” has become a common expression lately, describing lice that are resistant to pesticides — mostly those in over-the-counter lice shampoos. While most parents claim they got rid of the live bugs, experts say OTC shampoos do not kill nits, and the lifecycle of the lice can begin all over again.
I was also curious about other types of treatment.
As I prepared to share my story with other parents, I decided to visit Lice Clinics of America, which has several Valley locations. Staff there use words like “cure” and “guarantee,” which were music to my ears. Their AirAllè is an FDA-cleared medical device that can kill lice and eggs, without pesticides, in a single treatment.
We arrived at the Lice Clinics of America in Gilbert, and the scenario looked all too familiar. This time, however, it wasn’t taking place at my house, but at what looked like a clean, sterile, minimally furnished hair salon. Every family is taken into a private room to be treated.
The technicians checked both Lucy and me for any signs of bugs. (To fully guarantee lice-free hair through Lice Clinics of America, the entire household must be present and treated). Then came the big daddy: the AirAllé device. It looked like a handheld blow dryer. Section by section, with the combination of high temperature and airflow, it aims to dehydrate and kill any bug or egg.
The technician offered Lucy a movie, then applied a non-toxic, pesticide-free active rinse to Lucy’s hair and combed it out with a nit comb. All told, the treatment took about an hour.
Our experience at Lice Clinic of America was pleasant and reassuring. Similar to the in-home service, this process can be pricey (treatments range from $45 to $200 per person). However, we appreciated the guarantees and thoroughness, and the AirAllé treatment eliminated follow-up treatment at home. Sold!
Martel Deines, owner of the Lice Clinics of America location in Gilbert, joked with us that if experiencing lice hasn’t traumatized you, you’re not doing it right. My family wholeheartedly concurs; we’re beyond traumatized. But lice happens. Now we know what to do at the first sign of a serious scalp itch.
Lice prevention and early detection
- Check hair weekly.
- Buy a nit comb ($4-$20). Combing hair with a nit comb breaks and destroys lice eggs.
- Keep longer hair in braids or buns to make it harder for lice to attach.
- Over-the-counter (pesticide free) lice shampoos with dimethicone can suffocate lice.
- OTC sprays and oils, hairspray and gel can make it harder for lice to stick to hair.
- Eggs (nits) hatch in seven to 10 days.
- Nymph (baby lice) grow for about 10 days.
- Lice (louse is singular) are older than 10 days and about the size of a sesame seed.
- It is nearly impossible to see an egg on the hair shaft. Lice are usually detected when they are full grown and have most likely already laid eggs.
- Lice can lay up to 6-10 eggs per day. Eggs do not grow or move. If broken before the nymph hatches, the egg is destroyed.
- Don’t panic. Lice feed on blood from a human scalp; most die within 15-24 hours of coming off the head.
- Throw pillows, stuffed animals and other linens in the dryer on high heat.
- Put brushes, combs and hair accessories in a plastic bag and place in the freezer for 12-24 hours.
Check your school’s lice policy. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommended that schools drop “no nit” policies, because lice are not a health hazard (they do not spread diseases) and children were missing too much school. Once active bugs have been removed, children are usually allowed back in class.