Head Lice Treatment

Head Lice Info
The head louse is a tiny parasitic insect that lives in human hair and subsists on small amounts of blood drawn from the scalp. Head lice are host specific. Neither able to fly nor jump, head lice are unlikely to leave a host and most often hatch and spend their entire lives on a single individual. Human lice wonít infest your pets, and lice on pets usually donít infest people.

Head lice are common worldwide. Infestation isnít an indication of poor hygiene. Head lice are acquired from other infested people. In North America and Europe, children are more frequently infested than are adults, females more often than males, and caucasians more frequently than other ethnic groups.

Generally, a host has fewer than a dozen active lice on the scalp, but may have dozens of viable eggs. Head lice neither cause nor transmit infections or diseases.

What Head Lice Look Like
There are three forms of lice: the nit or egg, the nymph, and the adult.

(Photo courtesy of Center for Disease Control)
Nits are very small and easily confused for dandruff or dried drops of hair spray. They are oval in shape and usually yellow to white in color. Without magnification it is difficult to determine whether nits are viable (fertilized and under development) or just the remaining shells of hatched nymphs. The female louse cements each nit to the base of a hair shaft near the scalp. The nits take about one week to hatch.

Nymphs are newly hatched nits. Nymphs look like adult head lice but are much smaller. Nymphs mature in about a week.

The adult louse is about the size of a sesame seed, has six legs, and is tan to gray-white. Adult lice can live up to 30 days but need to feed on blood several times daily. Without a host, a louse typically dies within a day or two.

Symptoms of Head Lice
Head lice are most commonly found on the scalp, behind the ears and near the neckline at the base of the head. Unless seen, symptoms of infestation are easy to miss:

Tickling sensation or feeling something move through the hair.

Allergic reaction to the bites, which causes itching.

Scratching the itch can result in sores, which lead to infection and general irritability.

Viable eggs are usually located within 1/4 inch of the scalp. Normal hair growth transports the nits away from the scalp. Eggs more than one-half an inch away from the scalp are usually not viable. Unless adults, nymphs or viable eggs are noticed, the presence of nits doesnít signify an active infestation. An infestation is diagnosed by looking closely through the hair and scalp for nits, nymphs, or adults and is usually best done by an experienced health care professional.

Head Lice Treatment
The most effective way to get rid of head lice is with a nit comb, a good light, and a magnifying glass. This is especially true for children under two-years-old, who may have adverse reactions to head lice shampoo and other chemical head lice cures.

Nit combs are available in both plastic and steel and may be purchased from a pharmacy (or often less expensively from a pet supply department). Nit combs for both animals and people are very similar in style and equally effective. Comb through the hair daily for about two weeks, being sure to come into contact with the scalp. This helps ensure that you remove all nymphs and nits as well as adults.

Electronic louse combs are often less effective than the traditional nit comb. Their teeth may not reach the scalp and therefore may not remove viable eggs.

While there are multiple home remedies for head lice, none has been scientifically proven. Frequently the second line of attack is to purchase an over-the-counter head lice shampoo. However, these shampoos contain toxic chemicals. Follow package directions to the letter. In most cases, even over-the-counter head lice cures are best purchased and used only on the advice of a professional health care professional. In a severe case, your doctor may prescribe a stronger head lice cure.

Head lice may be found on eyelashes or eyebrows. These lice should be mechanically removed (plucked) with great care. Donít use chemicals near the eyes!

Although head lice only live a day or two after they fall off their host, headwear, combs, brushes, bed linen, and pajamas should be thoroughly cleaned. Items that arenít washable should be either dry-cleaned or vacuumed.

Head Lice Prevention
Teach children to avoid activities that are likely to spread lice.

Avoid head-to-head contact during play.

Donít share headwear whether itís a hat, helmet, or hair ribbon.

Donít share combs, brushes, or towels.

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