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Home Remedies for Head Lice Are Dangerous and Ineffective

 If your child gets head lice, how should you treat it? Some parents turn to home remedies they read about on the Internet or heard about from a friend. Some common home remedies that people claim treat head lice are vinegar, baby oil and petroleum jelly.

In Massachusetts, relatives of a 1-year-old girl tried to treat the child's head lice by covering her scalp with mayonnaise and placing a plastic shopping bag over her hair. The child was left unattended for several hours, police said. The bag slipped down over the child's face, and she suffocated.

"The only safe and effective way to treat head lice is by using an over-the-counter or prescription medication," says Ellie Brownstein, MD, a pediatrician at University of Utah's Greenwood Health Center.

Home remedies like mayonnaise may suffocate the bugs but do not kill the eggs, Brownstein says. Never use gasoline or kerosene to treat lice.

Several effective medications are available, including over-the-counter products containing pyrethrins or permethrin. These may be sold by the brand names Nix, Pronto, Rid and Triple X. Parents should read the labels and talk to their doctor for information on age restrictions.

Your health-care provider may recommend prescription medication if over-the-counter products don't take care of the lice. These include benzyl alcohol lotion (sold as Ulesfia) and ivermectin lotion (sold as Sklice).

After the shampoo and rinse, Brownstein recommends using a fine-toothed comb like the LiceMeister to remove the eggs.

Sometimes a treatment will need to be repeated seven to 10 days later.

"Contact your doctor if you notice irritation, rawness of the skin or odd behavior," Brownstein says. "Do not use a treatment on open sores."

Brownstein also wants to dispel the notion that head lice only affect people who don't bathe. Anyone can get lice. It can even happen to doctors' families. Toddlers and school-age children are most susceptible because they may share hats, coats, scarves, hairbrushes and combs.

So don't panic if your child gets lice. "There are no long-term risks," she says.