What are lice?
Lice are very small bugs about 2 to 3 millimeters long. Their bodies are usually pale and gray, but their color may vary. They are often called “head lice” because they are primarily found on the scalp where they feed on small amounts of blood.
- Egg – Also referred to as nits, lice eggs hatch in 6 to 9 days. Lice eggs are white or light yellow, less than a millimeter big, and found attached to strands of hair close to the scalp.
- Nymph – Lice are in this stage of life for their first seven days.
- Adult – Also called a louse, they can reproduce quickly and lay as many as ten eggs a day.
Head lice are prevalent among school-aged children since they are easily spread through close contact. Even though it feels like a huge inconvenience, you can get rid of lice fast with diligence and a clear treatment plan.
Symptoms of lice
Itching is the most common way to discover a lice infestation. Unfortunately, once your scalp begins to itch, you’ve likely already had lice for about two to four weeks. Lice tend to stay in the lower half of the scalp, so itching around the ears and across the bottom hairline is a prevalent symptom.
If you spread hair apart to see the scalp, you will see lice crawling around and may be able to see their eggs attached to individual strands of hair.
Causes of lice
There is a common myth that bad hygiene causes lice, but this isn’t true. They also cannot be spread from animals to humans since they only feed on human blood.
Lice crawl, so close contact with an infected person is the primary way that lice spread from person to person. While lice can be spread from sharing hats, brushes, and combs, this is less likely since they don’t live longer than a few days without human blood.
Who can get lice?
Children are the population most likely to receive a head lice diagnosis. It is estimated that 6 to 12 million cases of head lice infestation occur every year in America among children ages 3 to 11 years.
People of African American descent are least likely to have lice. Adults are also less likely to spread lice unless they are in close contact with children in preschool or elementary school where the infestations are most common.
Diagnosis for lice
Visual identification is most common in diagnosing lice. It is important to have good lighting so you can see clearly. A magnifying glass helps to see the lice and nits since they are so small and light-colored.
Head lice crawl quickly and are easy to miss. Instead, look for nits close to the scalp. If your child has dandruff, this can be a difficult task. However, dandruff will flake and come away from the scalp very easily. Nits will stay firmly in place on the strands of hair.
Treatments for lice
Since lice reproduce very quickly, they are difficult to get rid of completely. It is important to wash bed sheets, pillows, clothes, and soft toys every day as you treat yourself, your children, and your family for lice.
Keep in mind that different ingredients in both OTC and prescription treatments are designed to kill lice at different stages. For example, one shampoo may be used to kill lice, but not nits. You will have to continue using the shampoo as the directions state to ensure all lice are killed as they hatch.
Complications and risks of lice
Some OTC treatments use an active ingredient called pyrethrin. It is found in flowers like chrysanthemums and mums. If you or your child is allergic to these flowers, you may have a reaction to the treatment.
Many parents boast that home remedies like mayonnaise or vinegar help to get rid of lice and nits, although these treatments don’t have any proof to back them up. All treatments come with potential side effects, so talk to your doctor before beginning a treatment regimen.
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John Hopkins Medicine: "No-panic guide to head lice treatment."
American College of Dermatology: "Head lice: diagnosis and treatment."
U.S. Food and Drug Administration: "Treating and preventing head lice."
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: "Head Lice."