What Parents Need to Know about Head Lice

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a child and parents
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Head lice are an extremely common issue that affects 6-12 million children in the United States yearly. Head lice do not discriminate, they can make their home on anyone’s head that has hair for them to grasp on to. Hygiene has nothing to do with head lice. Lice will crawl onto any head, no matter if the hair is clean or dirty.

Luckily, head lice are not dangerous – but they are quite the nuisance. Head lice can be treated from the comfort of your own home, but it is important that an effective and safe treatment is used to treat those infested.

What exactly are head lice?

Head lice are little parasites about the side of a sesame seed (2-3 mm long). The color of their bodies can vary, but they are usually light gray to brown. A single bug is called a louse and the collection of bugs are referred to as lice.

Head lice grasp onto the hair atop the head and feed off small amounts of blood from the scalp. Head lice can live for up to 48 hours off of the head without a food source.

Head lice lay eggs and attach their eggs with a glue-like substance to the hair shaft close to the scalp. Head lice eggs are referred to as nits. They are about the size of a poppy seed (0.8 mm long and 0.3 mm wide). They are usually clear to white in color and may be difficult to spot in the hair. Nits are often confused with dandruff; however, dandruff are not as difficult to remove from the hair as nits are.

The Head Lice Life Cycle

Head lice have a lifespan of about 30 days and they develop in 3 stages: egg/nit, nymph, and adult louse.

  • Eggs (nits) hatch within 7-10 days and are attached by an adult louse with a sticky substance to the hair shaft close to scalp.
  • Nymphs look like adults bugs, but are smaller (about 1.5 mm). Nymphs mature into adult bugs about 7 days after they hatch.
  • Adult louse is a mature bug that can reproduce. A female louse can lay up to 10 eggs per day. It takes about 12-14 days for newly hatched eggs to reach the stage of adulthood.

If head lice are left untreated, they will not go away. Lice will continue to reproduce and the life cycle will continue, until all bugs are eggs are eliminated from the hair.

How Common are Head Lice?

Head lice are very common. In fact, it is unusual for children of school-going age to not get head lice at least once in their lives. Six to twelve million children in the United States contract a case of head lice per year!

How Do Lice Spread?

Contrary to popular belief head lice cannot jump or fly. They make their way from head to head by quickly crawling. Head lice are mainly spread through direct head-to-head contact, but lice can also be spread through indirect means, like shared blankets/pillows/sleeping bags, clothing, or hair accessories.

What are the Symptoms of Head Lice?

An itchy scalp is the most common symptom of a head lice infestation, but it could take up to 6 weeks for people infested with lice to experience this itching. Itching most commonly occurs behind the ears and at the nape of the neck.

It is also not uncommon for the head to itch after you have rid the head of head lice. The scalp can become dried out and irritated from previous lice bites, lice treatment formula, and nit combing.

How to check for Head Lice?

It is important to do regular lice checks if you have children of school-going age.

To perform a lice check:

  1. Have you child sit under a bright light or even outside in natural light.
  2. Part the hair with a fine tooth comb.
  3. Separate the hair into small sections and search for crawling bugs and tiny eggs.
  4. Live bugs will crawl quickly throughout the hair, so keep an eye out for movement.
  5. The nits (eggs) are poppy seed sized and will be white to yellowish in color. They are firmly attached to the hair shaft and hard to remove. Make sure to not confuse these with dandruff, which is much easier to remove. .

How is Head Lice Treated?

There are many different routes for treating a head lice infestation. Many people choose to go to the store and purchase over-the-counter lice treatments, like Rid or Nix. Other people choose to use home remedies, like oils or an all natural treatment specifically for lice. There are also prescription medications available.

Over-the-counter treatment like Rid or Nix may be ineffective against treating some lice infestations. Lice have grown immune to the chemicals contained in these products due to decades of overuse. These products may not eliminate your infestation.

Home remedies, like olive oil and mayonnaise operate as suffocating agents. They are most effective when applied to the head and left for several hours or overnight and covered with a shower cap. This method may suffocate the adult lice, but it will have no effect on the eggs. The eggs will need to combed out and nit picked from the hair.

Head lice medications can be prescribed from a doctor. The medications tend to run more on the expensive side and they do contain chemicals. It is possible that lice may be immune to the chemicals contained in these products.

The safest and most effective route for treating a lice infestation is getting a natural lice products void of chemicals that is specifically to designed to eliminate both lice and nits. Lice cannot become immune to natural ingredients.