Lice and Hair – What You Need to Know
Have you ever had lice? If you have then you know how embarrassing and irritating it can be. Thankfully there are medicines and shampoos that can help to kill these pests and alleviate any issues that they may have caused.
One good thing to know is that once lice is identified, it is fairly easy to get under control so catching it early is the key. Also, lice is not necessarily caused by personal hygiene issues or poor living environments. Lice is very common in school aged children but if left untreated, it can spread through the school or even the family at home.
What is Head Lice?
You probably remember back in grade school when the school nurse would call everyone into her office, one at a time, for a lice inspection.
They would go through your hair with a fine-toothed comb to look for any signs of a lice infestation in your scalp. Most of the time they wouldn’t find anything, but there were always a few cases that would pop up during the year that needed to be treated before the school had an epidemic.
Head lice are small insects that typically only affect younger school aged children. These insects like the warmth of the scalp and feed off of blood through complete painless bites. Lice are easily transmitted through direct contact with a person that has it or by sharing infected items.
How or Why Did My Child Develop Head Lice?
As we mentioned above, lice is transmitted by having direct contact with a person already affected by it. The insect cannot fly or jump so direct contact to the insect is needed to transmit. Although, medical legend tells us that static cling when removing a winter cap could send them flying several feet in the air.
This doesn’t mean that the only way to spread lice is to rub your head against someone, there are other methods of direct transmission such as sharing a hat or headphones, shaking hands with someone with lice who has recently scratched their head, or even using the same towel, pillow or hairbrush. Also sharing a locker with infected garments could lead to the spread of lice.
Any of these actions can cause lice to spread which is why it is typical for lice to affect a household or a classroom where adults or kids are in in close contact. However, even though lice tends to work its way through the people you live with, it’s important to avoid contact with unnecessary visitors until the problem is under control.
Remember, even though we may associate body lice or head lice with poor hygiene, lice do not come from unsanitary conditions; they can affect people of all socioeconomic status. In fact, lice prefer to lay their eggs clean hair!
Another important thing to note is that lice does not come from our 4-legged friends like cats and dogs and we can’t pass human lice to them either.
Symptoms of Head Lice
Itchy scalp is usually the first and most noticeable symptom of head lice. If you see your child scratching more than usual, it’s time to take a closer look.
When trying to determine if you have head lice one of the first things you should look for is the insects themselves. While they are small, they are visible to the naked eye, so you can have a family member look through your scalp in search of little crawling bugs. They are about the size of a sesame seed and the first place to look is at the edge of the scalp behind the ears.
You may also notice small little lice eggs, knows as nits, clinging to the shaft of your hair. While they are small, you should also be able to see them with the naked eye. They may look like small white flakes on the hair but they are attached, they won’t just fall off if you shake the hair.
If you see either live lice or nits in your hair or on your scalp you should contact your doctor for confirmation but you can also start treatment with an over-the-counter lice shampoo right away. Your doctor can advise you on a treatment plan to help kill anything that might be able to reproduce, the best technique for removing nits and how to disinfect the household.
If you or your child is scratching enough, it could create sores on your scalp, particularly around your hairline or on your neck. You may not even notice any itching or soreness for weeks after the infestation starts if you’re not familiar with the symptoms of lice and by that time the lice have had plenty of time to multiply and will be more wide spread. So be suspicious of young children with itchy heads!
This is why it’s important for schools and parents to regularly check children for signs of the insects. Thankfully head lice do NOT carry diseases or cause bacterial or viral infections, but they are a nuisance and can cause extreme discomfort and embarrassment.
How to Treat Head Lice
Treatment of head lice is simple but can be laborious. After seeing your doctor, and determining how bad the infestation is, they will either prescribe you a topical medication or recommend an over-the-counter solution.
These medications are either lotions or shampoos that you apply in the shower that have anti-parasitic ingredients to kill the nymphs (young stage) and adult lice. Nits, or eggs, need to be combed out. The medication will not reach the eggs because they are incased in a sack that is attached to the hair strand. This is why most medications come with a lice comb.
These medications should be applied once, washed off, and then repeated in 7-10 days in order to kill any new adults that have hatched from the nits. In order to remove all the nits you literally go through the hair with a fine toothed comb (just like the old adage). You will need to rely on a family member or very good friend to comb through small sections of hair from the base of the scalp to the end of each and every strand of hair on your head. This is the slow tedious part of knocking out an infestation.
In addition, the clothing, bedding, towels, and any stuffed animals or other soft fabric toys that the child was in contact with should be washed in hot water followed by a hot dryer the same day you treat with person shampoo. If there are items that can’t be washed, you can wrap them in a plastic bag and “quarantine them” for 3 weeks because adult lice can live off the body for several days. Combs or brushes can be washed in hot soapy water and do not need to be thrown out.
Due to the overwhelming prevalence lice, there are now professional de-licing services you can pay to help you with the process of ridding your family and house from a lice infestation.
Head lice is typically very treatable and responds well to topical medications. In most cases if there is a complication from lice, it’s due to the scratching of the scalp which can then become infected. The lice themselves normally will not cause complications but it’s still best to get it treated as quickly as possible in order to prevent spread to others.
Nobody wants to deal with head lice and it’s always been one of those things parents dread hearing about from their children’s school. Thankfully it is treatable, and you can rest assured, you are not alone, it’s a common problem that parents deal with from all walks of life.