Human Head Lice
A lice infestation can be frustrating, uncomfortable and test your patience, but there are at-home lice treatments that eliminate the itchy pests. Keep in mind that while lice are annoying and persistent, they do not carry disease. Having lice is not a sign of you or your child’s cleanliness.
What Are Lice?
Lice are tiny, parasitic, wingless insects that ingest human blood. The good news is lice do not fly or jump, they crawl. There are head lice, body lice and pubic lice. For the purposes of this article, we are referring to head lice.
Head lice, which when full-grown are about the size of a sesame seed, attach their eggs, also referred to as nits, to the bottom of the hair shafts. The eggs can be seen, but it is difficult. They hatch in eight or nine days. Effective lice treatments kill the lice and the eggs.
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Signs You May Have Lice
Lice symptoms include persistent, intense itching beyond a dry scalp or occasional head scratch. You see lice on your scalp or clothing. You may also see lice eggs on hair shafts when using a magnifying glass and a bright light.You may also notice small, red bumps on the scalp, neck and shoulders. Difficulty sleeping or irritability can be a sign since lice are active in the dark.
Where Do Lice Come From?
Lice spread from person-to-person or from object-to-person contact. School children are especially susceptible to getting lice and then spreading them to family members. The most common way people get lice is head-to-head contact. Spreading lice can also occur by sharing combs and brushes. Other items that spread head lice are:
- Hair ribbons
- Sports uniforms
- Stuffed animals
You can also get head lice from putting your head on a carpet, couch, bed, pillow, movie seat, airplane seat or even a car headrest. This information is not to make you paranoid about getting head lice, but to show you how many ways you can get them. Fortunately, dogs and cats cannot spread human lice.
Lice die in 24 hours. So if the people in your home are lice-free, chances are the surfaces do not have lice. About 95 percent of all lice transfers come from head-to-head contact.
Again lice are not a hygiene issue. Having them does not make you a dirty person. In fact, lice seem to prefer clean hair because they can move more easily. There are, however, risk factors that increase your chances of coming into contact with someone who has lice.
The U. S. Centers for Disease Control estimates between six and 12 million head lice infestations occur annually among children 3 to 11 years of age. Lice are more prevalent among girls and Caucasians.
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Parents and teachers already know that lice infestations are common in preschool and elementary school-age children. You may have received a notice that your child was checked for lice at school or the school itself had an outbreak.
Effective Lice Treatment
Head lice have evolved making them resistant to over-the-counter products. Studies have said that OTC products are 45-55 percent effective. Combing out eggs is the best way to get rid of and prevent recurrence of lice.
If you or someone in your home has lice, there are lice treatment options to choose from. There are some natural options that have been deemed more effective than using chemicals. To perform all the treatments, you will need a lice comb.
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Smother the Lice
You can smother the lice to make them easier to comb out of the hair. This lice treatment involves coating the hair with olive or almond oil. Then separate the hair into sections, using a hair clip to keep the rest of the hair out of the way. Use a bright light and a magnifying glass if you have one to make sure the lice and nits are going into the comb. Wipe the comb on paper towels to see if the lice are coming out of the hair and dispose of the towels in a container nearby.
After combing all the hair, use Dawn dish soap to wash the hair before using a shampoo. This breaks down the oil much more quickly Wash all towels that were used in the lice treatment. To clean the lice comb you can soak it in vinegar for 30 minutes or boil in water for 10 minutes. Follow this process daily for a week. Then for the next two weeks comb the hair with the lice comb to make sure there are no more nits or insects.
Use Essential Oils
Essential oils along with combing can be an effective lice treatment. The oils that have shown to eliminate lice are:
- Tea tree oil
- Lavender oil
- Clove oil
- Eucalyptus oil
- Cinnamon leaf oil
Mix two ounces of olive oil or rubbing alcohol with 15 to 20 drops of the essential oil. Apply to the scalp using cotton balls or spray bottle if using alcohol. Leave on the scalp for at least 12 hours, preferably overnight. Comb the hair, shampoo and rinse. The alcohol spray can be used to prevent future infestations.
The conventional lice treatment is to use a topical medication to kill off the lice and the lice eggs. But they often require a second treatment. You can find them at your local drugstore, online or at Walmart, Target or grocery stores. These medications can irritate skin causing burning, redness and rash. There are two commonly used substances to kill lice.
Pyrethrins is a natural extract from chrysanthemums. But it kills live lice, not the eggs. This lice treatment should not be used by anyone who is allergic to chrysanthemums or ragweed. Permethrin lotion, 1 percent, brand name Nix, is a synthetic version of pyrethrins. It kills lice and the eggs. It also leaves a residue on the hair that will continue to kill lice after the first application. Permethrin is safe for people 2 months and older. Prescription medications are available. Consult your doctor for those options.
Sanitize Lice Combs
Treating the scalp and hair is only part of a lice treatment plan. You also want to treat the hair tools that have been exposed to lice. They should be washed in water that is at least 130 degrees and soap.
Vacuuming your furniture and floors removes the lice-infested hairs that could be home to viable lice eggs. Consider covering furniture for two weeks after you vacuum. This will prevent a re-infestation.
Use Anti-Lice Hair Products
There are several brands of lice-deterring hair products on the market that you can buy. Each contains a blend of oils such as rosemary that repel lice. There are shampoos, conditioners and sprays that you can use to protect your scalp against lice.
Hire a Professional
If you are too squeamish or the infestation is too much to take on as a DIY project, hire a professional. Some services offer in-home treatment where a nurse will administer the oil treatment and comb out lice. It takes an hour or two, but you get to be at home.
Go to a Salon
Lice salons offer lice treatment options in a salon like setting. That means the whole family can get treated at once. When searching for a lice salon, make it’s been certified in the Shepherd Method. Also study the pricing structure for hidden costs. Expect that a one week recheck and guarantee of treatment is included in the original price of the lice treatment.
Hot air has been proven as an effective way to kill nits. Live lice are another story. According to a study a bonnet dryer (the one with the hose and cap) killed nearly 89 percent of nits but just 10 percent of lice. A regular blow dryer with heat killed 98 percent of nits and more than half of the lice. So crank up the heat and dry your hair. Do not use hot air after using a chemical lice treatment.
Words of Caution
If an OTC or natural lice treatment does not work after two weeks of use or there are signs of an infection, contact a doctor. Symptoms of an infection include:
- Sores that don’t heal
Always perform a patch test on your child before using essential oil as a lice treatment. Tea tree oil, in particular, can cause an allergic reaction.
If you have school-age children, chances are you and your child will have lice at some point. Even though having lice is uncomfortable and somewhat embarrassing, it’s more of a nuisance than anything else. The best course of action is prevention. Get a lice comb and wet-comb your hair and or child’s hair once a week to check for lice. Keep an eye out for you or someone scratching their head a lot. Wash hats, pillowcases and blankets regularly in hot water.
If you suspect your child has a lice-infested friend or has lice, stay calm. Ridding your child and home of lice is a bit of a challenge, but it doesn’t last forever. Lice happen. These common sense lice treatments will get rid of the problem.
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