Medical Reporting: Head Lice and Parental Judgment

The Scotch know something that most Americans don’t.  Americans tend to assume that statements are true or false, good or bad, black or white.  The Scottish judicial system head-licerecognizes a third option: “not proven.”  A lot of times, we need to recognize “not proven” as the true state of things, and act carefully and with awareness.

Take a new medical news report on head lice treatments, entitled “Over-the-counter head lice treatments are likely to fail.”  The article makes three claims:

  1. That the excessive use of over-the-counter medicines for head lice has caused lice to build resistance to those medications, and
  2. “Home remedies such as petroleum jelly, mayonnaise, and essential oils, have not been demonstrated as safe or effective and may cause adverse reactions.”
  3. Thus prescription drugs are the only sure treatment for head lice.

These statements could be true.

If so, why question them?

Well, there are several reasons to wonder about them:

  • These statements sound like something a PR flak for a pharma company could have written.
  • There is no disclosure as to whether the physicians involved have a financial tie to a pharma company selling a prescription product.
  • Home remedies have been used for decades with little clear adverse impact.  Home remedies like petroleum jelly may be messy to use, but that’s among the worst criticisms of them I have seen.  Further, they wouldn’t be home remedies if they had not worked for somebody.
  • We don’t know possible long term effects of prescription drugs.  No clinical trials last 20 years.
  • Just because over-the-counter drugs are becoming less effecting, we cannot assume they will fail with your child.  They might, but until you try them, there is no way to know.

So, is the report right?   “Not proven.”

So what’s a parent to do?

Common sense says to start with the least risky treatment, and escalate only if that doesn’t work.  However, be vigilant and understand that any treatment may not work.  So you try different options until you find something that does the trick.

Some will argue that trial-and-error is time consuming.  True, but kids are time consuming.  Why would you chose to raise a child if you weren’t willing to commit the time?

Some may argue that home remedies are messy.  Again true, but kids are messy.  If that’s the worst mess your kids create you’re lucky.  If you aren’t prepared to deal with messes, just why are you a parent?







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