Head Louse Facts and Treatments

How to Recognize and Treat Head Lice

The ghastly head louse infests millions of heads worldwide, right now. Approximately 10 million children per year in fact.

If you're one of those people dealing with head lice, you'll find information here to eradicate them!

I'll also provide tips for preventing head lice as they have a very predictable modus operandi.

Signs and Symptoms

Facts

Diagnosis

Prevention

Treatment


Signs and Symptoms

The most common sign that your child may have lice is itching, sometimes producing sores on the scalp.

Head Lice Life Cycle

NITS


Photograph of Egyptian comb courtesy of Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa, Wellington, New Zealand.

The graphic above illustrates a 6th century Egyptian nit comb along with it's present day plastic counterpart.

Credit: Vincent S. Smith, University of Glasgow for louse and modern comb photo.

The nit of a head louse is attached with a glue to the base of the hair shaft near the scalp. They are oval shaped and range from a pearlescent white color to reddish brown just before they hatch. Nits are about the size of the head of a pin and take about 10 days to hatch.

The nit first hatches into a juvenile louse and grows into an adult head louse within another 5-7 days, at which time it begins laying it's own eggs.

LIVE LICE

Need to feed on human blood and cannot survive for more than a few days without it. They like warm, moist areas and can most often be seen tucked in behind the ears. Contrary to the belief that having lice means you're unhygienic, lice prefer a clean head of hair.

The size of a full-grown head louse is around 2-3mm and they live for up to one month. Colors of head lice can vary from whitish to red/brown to a grey/black tone. The color of the adult head louse is determined by the color of hair their human host had in their nit stage. Light hair equals whitish louse, dark hair equals dark louse. Sneaky little buggers!

Diagnosis

Misdiagnosis is common as chunks of dandruff or hair casts (from follicles) can appear much like a nit. Be sure about infestation before using any sort of chemical treatment. An actual nit is fused onto the hair strand and is usually quite difficult to remove.

If your child is infested you may or may not see live lice in the hair on thorough inspection. They can be difficult to spot as they avoid light, so while you're searching for them, they're scurrying off to hide in the dark areas.

Prevention

lice comb

Regularly combing through your child's hair with a Nit Free Terminator Lice Comb is a great practice for preventing full blown head lice infestations. This removes adult lice before they have an opportunity to lay their eggs. One adult head louse can lay up to 100 eggs in a very short time. So staying on top of their development is crucial in preventing reproduction.

Do let your child's school, parents of friends and day care providers know if your child has head lice. This will go a long way in preventing other cases and possibly prevent re-infection in your child as well.

Treatments

Vigilance is the key when battling the head louse. There are several things you can, and should do to eradicate head lice and prevent them from returning.

MANUAL REMOVAL

In most cases, manually removing each head louse and nit is the best course of treatment. It's also the most 'nit-picky', hence the popular expression.

Get yourself a special nit comb like the Nit Free Terminator Lice Comb and sit your child in the bathtub for easy cleanup. Part the hair in small sections, particularly behind the ears and at the nape hairline.

Comb through each section of hair a few times and wipe the comb clean with a tissue or rinse thoroughly after each swipe.

My expertise as a hair professional provided me with some general information about lice and how to recognize them. But in terms of treatments, hairstylists are not the best resource as we don't perform hair services on clients who have lice. As soon as it is revealed that a client has lice, they are asked to leave and all combs, brushes that came in contact with the person are disinfected.

It wasn't until I had kids of my own who ended up with lice that I really had to figure out how to deal with it. My personal opinion is that manual removal (though time consuming), is the best way to eradicate lice from a person's hair. I used a comb, like the one recommended above, and found it very good, especially for removing the hatched lice. But the tool that worked best for me to get some of those clingy nits hiding close to the scalp was my own thumbnail (along with a healthy dose of persistence).

CHEMICAL TREATMENTS

There are chemical options such as pesticide shampoos, which can kill live lice and sometimes nits as well. Aside from the health risks associated with the chemicals in these pesticides, some concern has arisen that head lice are becoming resistant to these treatments.

NATURAL TREATMENTS

The LiceLogic line of products (shown below) are all natural and very effective in ridding lice without the use of harsh chemicals. Users of these products rave about how well they work and how great they smell. Using these, along with the Nit Free Terminator Lice Comb makes for a powerful arsenal to fight the creepy crawlers.


HOUSEHOLD CLEANING

To avoid spreading head lice or re-infestation after treatment, thoroughly vacuum rugs and upholstery. Wash bedding and recently used clothing in hot water and tumble dry on high heat.

Un-washable items can be stored in sealed plastic bags for 2-3 weeks or sprayed with a solution like LiceLogic Household Lice Protection Spray.

All combs and brushes should be soaked in hot, soapy water for 10-15 minutes and strays hairs should be removed. Daily combing with your nit comb is a good idea for a few weeks after the infestation.


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