Head lice are tiny, wingless insects that suck blood. These insects live in the hair on your head, and feed by biting your scalp and causing you to bleed. The adult insect is called a louse, and is right around the size of a sesame seed. The louse’s egg is known as a nit, and this egg is similar in size to a small dandruff flake. You can see both with the naked eye.
Unfortunately, head lice cases are very contagious. You can get head lice in a number of ways, including the following;
- Touching heads with someone who has head lice
- Using the same fabric item after someone used it that has head lice
- Sharing personal items with someone who has head lice like a brush or comb
An infected person can transfer head lice to other people by sharing combs, brushes, headphones, barrettes, hats, or headbands. Head lice can live in bedding, clothing, towels, or on upholstered furniture, increasing the risk even further.
There are a few groups of people that are at a higher risk of developing head lice, and preschool and elementary school kids are at the top of the list. This is because kids touch their heads together and play very closely. In turn, this makes family members with preschool and school-aged children at a higher risk of getting head lice from their child. Other people who share this elevated risk include people who work at elementary schools, daycare centers, and preschools.
Head lice symptoms can vary in severity from person to person; however, there are several key factors to look out for. These include:
- Having extreme itchiness on your scalp
- Developing red bumps, scabs, or sores
- Seeing lice on your clothing or in your hair
- Feeling a tickling sensation or feeling like your hair is moving
- Encountering nits in your hair
You can diagnose head lice at home by checking your hair very close to your scalp for lice or nits. Take a very fine-toothed comb and run it through your hair. Start at the scalp and move outward to catch any lice or nits present. Lice are usually very light colored while the nits are dark, and you’ll see them caught in the comb.
You can get both over-the-counter and prescription lice treatments. Over-the-counter treatments usually contain Pyrethrin and Permethrin. This is derived from chrysanthemum flowers, and is useful for killing both lice and their nits. Prescription lice treatments include either benzyl alcohol lotion, malathion, or lindane.
If you don’t want to use these pesticides on your head or around your family, you can treat lice in other ways. There are electric lice combs available that will zap the lice as you run it through your hair, killing them in the process. Tea tree essential oil is another common treatment method. Mix this into shampoo or a carrier oil and apply to the hair.
Additionally, take steps to decontaminate your home and belongings so the lice don’t come back. To do this, you’ll have to:
- Wash bedding and clothing at 130 degrees Fahrenheit or up
- Dry clean your bedding and clothing
- Seal your bedding, clothing, and plush toys in plastic for 14 days
- Vacuum upholstered furniture and floors daily
- Soak your hair accessories in hot water for 5 to 10 minutes
Head lice is treatable. But it does take time and dedication. If you would like a professional opinion, Medek healthcare providers can help to diagnose this condition.