Head Lice – Dealing with the Lousy Menace

By on November 2, 2013
woman scratching head

Remember those days when we were children and our mothers used to spend endless hours trying to get those tiny, pesky, blood sucking parasites out of our heads?

And after all the therapies and treatments, the lice used to promptly find their way back into our heads like it was their legal living area! Even today, we literally squirm at the thought of our children getting infested with lice.

Head lice (pediculus humanus) are tiny parasites found on the scalp and hair of humans. They feed on blood which they suck from the scalp. They are not dangerous and do not cause any serious diseases. They cannot fly or jump. They spread from person to person through shared personal items such as combs, head accessories such as head bands, clips, and hats.

Head lice are perfectly evolved parasitic insects and have been in existence since the beginning of mankind. They evolved from primate hair to human hair about 5.6 million years ago. The oldest infestation of head lice was discovered on the hair of a buried mummy in North East Brazil, which dates back 10,000 years.

Lice Life Cycle

Eggs: Also called nits, eggs are tiny (0.8 mm by 0.3 mm) and are attached to the base of the human hair shaft and are enclosed in a hard protective casing. They hatch in about 7-12 days.

Nymphs: Looks like adult head lice, but is about the size of a pinhead. They become fully grown adults after about 7 days of hatching.

Adults: The adult louse has 6 legs (each with claws) and is tan or grayish white in color. Females are usually bigger than males and can lay 1-8 eggs per day. They can survive for up to 30 days and feed on human blood which they suck from the scalp.

There are three steps to be followed to effectively get rid of head lice.

  1. Discovering its presence.
  2. Treatment to get rid of it.
  3. Procedures to be followed after treatment.

Discovering the Presence

Intense itching is a sure indication of lice infestation and is one of the common symptoms. Lice bites cause an allergic reaction and cause itchy red bumps, or sores which are visible on the scalp and behind the ears or on the nape of the neck.

The appearance of tiny white objects glued to the shafts of your hair are another indication of the presence of head lice. These are the eggs or nits, which occur a few days later and are difficult to brush out of the hair.

The unmistakable tickling sensation of something moving on the head or hair can be a cause of embarrassment especially if you are in the presence of others.

Treatments

You may have to be patient and persevering in getting rid of them, as they cannot be banished in a day. The various treatments you could try are:

  1. Combing
  2. Home remedies
  3. Over-the-counter shampoos and lotions or medical intervention

Combing

  • Wrap a towel around your child’s shoulder. Wet hair and apply some conditioner to smoothen out the hair. Place a piece of white tissue or a white cloth on your lap. Sit, with the child in front of you, under a bright light for better visibility.
  • Using a fine toothed nit comb, start combing the hair in sections, being extra careful to comb behind the ears and the nape of the neck, as this is the favorite hideout for these pesky creatures. Repeat combing till you have combed all the sections of hair, washing the comb in between with warm soapy water.
  • After hair has been thoroughly combed, destroy the tissue or cloth and wash the comb thoroughly by soaking it for 15 minutes in a solution of 2 cups hot water to which 1 teaspoon of ammonia has been added.
  • Shampoo hair with a mild, non medicated shampoo (since you are going to repeat this process for two weeks, and using a harsh shampoo daily might damage your hair).
  • Repeat combing hair following the same procedure daily for at least two weeks or till there is no sign of lice or nits.

combing the lice

Home Remedies

Nits take 8-9 days to hatch into nymphs. Since the nits are covered by a protective shell, they are more difficult to kill. So, whatever home remedy you use, it will be fully effective only if it is repeated continuously for at least 5-6 days.

Take care to prevent the mixture to come in contact with eyes. In case this happens, immediately wash eyes with plenty of fresh water. The home remedies mentioned are unsafe for human consumption; hence they should not be taken orally. Every time you rinse your hair after a treatment, use a nit comb on wet hair. This helps in removing dead lice and also the nits.

Onion juice: Make a paste of onion and extract the juice. Apply this juice directly onto the scalp and leave for 3-4 hours. The pungent sulfur of the onion kills the lice. Wash hair and remove the lice with a lice comb. Continue this treatment for 3 days to get rid of the nits also.

Custard apple: Make a powder of the seeds of custard apple. Make a paste by adding water and apply all over the scalp. Leave for one hour before washing hair with a mild shampoo. Repeat this procedure for three days to completely get rid of lice.

Vinegar: Mix 2 teaspoons vinegar to 6 teaspoons water and, with a wad of cotton, apply to roots of hair. Cover head with a shower cap and leave overnight. Repeat twice a week.

Garlic and lemon: Mix the juice of one lemon to a teaspoon of finely ground garlic paste and massage well into the scalp. The pungent smell of garlic is enough to kill all the lice including the nits.

Camphor: Mix some camphor extract in coconut oil and apply it thoroughly in the hair and scalp. Leave for a few hours and shampoo. This is a very effective remedy in getting rid of head lice.

Mayonnaise: Mayonnaise is an excellent remedy to get rid of head lice since it can smother and kill the lice and their eggs. Make a solution using two parts of mayonnaise, one part white vinegar, and 8-10 drops of tea tree essential oil. Massage it directly to the scalp and leave for at least two hours before rinsing. Use a nit comb to remove dead nits and lice.

Listerine: Fill a spray bottle with Listerine mouth wash and spray all over the hair and scalp. Leave for half an hour, rinse well and remove the dead lice and nits using a nit comb. The alcohol present in the Listerine is enough to kill all the lice and nits.

Over-the-counter medications: Head lice medications (also known as pediculicides) are available over the counter at most drug stores or pharmacies. But use with discretion.

After-Treatment Care

Treatment alone is not enough to send these creatures to their nemesis. It is equally important to follow up on the treatment and take certain precautions to make a successful eradication of lice.

Wash all items that might have come in contact with lice like bedding, clothes, head gear, even toys, in hot water and dry them out in the sun.

Keep checking all family members for infestation for up to 2-3 weeks.

Encourage children to avoid using personal items of their friends like combs, brushes and hair accessories.

Check your child’s head regularly for the presence of nits and lice and start treatment as soon as possible before the situation gets out of hand.

Change pillow covers, bed sheets, and towels often to avoid re infestation.

More Facts

  • Lice need human blood to survive. A single head louse can survive up to 30 days on your scalp, but dies within 48 hours if it falls off.
  • Head lice infestation occurs more in younger, school going children, than adults.
  • Head lice are not known to spread disease. However, there are chances of secondary skin infection if there is excessive scratching.

Image courtesy: inhealthcare.com , wikimedia.org , tustinhairsalon.com

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