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Head lice—how to treat.
Q: I heard recently on TV that there’s an effective way to get rid of head lice in about an hour. What is this treatment, and how safe is it?
Marlee Hagerstown
A: Marlee, there has been a lot of news lately about a study published in the journal Pediatrics about a hot-air hair-dryer treatment for head lice. The study treated 169 children with head lice and tested six different hot air treatments. These included a bonnet-style hair dryer, a wall-mounted style hair dryer with a hand-held attachment, a regular hand-held hair dryer and a specially designed hand-held “Louse Buster” dryer that delivered a higher volume of hot-air to the hair.

Each of the treatments took approximately 30 to 35 minutes to complete, and most of the children were comfortable with them. The study found that all of the hot air treatments were successful in killing more than 88 percent of the lice eggs or nits. However, there were big differences in their ability to kill the live lice. The most effective treatment was the Louse Buster. It killed 98 percent of the eggs and 80 percent of the live lice. When examined a week later, the researchers found that enough of the lice had been killed to prevent them from breeding, effectively curing the head lice infestation.

The researchers explained that the hot-air treatment killed the lice and eggs by simply drying them out. They claimed that this treatment is quicker, safer and more effective than the standard medicated shampoo treatment for head lice, which typically kills a much lower percentage of the nits and can require repeated treatments. The head lice are less likely to become resistant to the hot-air treatment, as they have to chemical treatments. This method is also less messy that other treatments people use, such as rubbing petroleum jelly or mayonnaise into the hair and leaving it on overnight under a bathing cap to smother the lice.

The drawback with the Louse Buster is that it’s very expensive and probably not affordable for individual families. However, the researchers envisioned that it could be used at school or health care sites. In the future, a lower-cost model may be available.

Karen Sokal-Gutierrez M.D., M.P.H. Pediatrician