Lice problem is more common than you think, especially with children in the age group of 4-9 years. More than 8 million school kids fall prey to the dreaded louse every year. Contrary to popular belief, poor personal hygiene is not the cause for infestation, it spreads through ‘contact transmission’. This is surely a cause for worry but thankfully, it is possible to eliminate the threat within a few days – with proper care, treatment and medication. Let’s first take a detailed look at these crawlies and understand how they affects us.
What is Lice and where does it come from?
This bug is a parasite that lives off human body by feeding on blood. It has claws at the end of its legs, with which it attaches itself to the base of the hair. When it wants to feed, it bites the scalp till blood flows out of it and then secretes an anti-coagulant to prevent the blood from coagulating. They breed and multiply very fast and females are known to lay 7-8 eggs, almost every day! The origins of this parasite are unknown and they probably predate human existence but the modern day louse is incapable of surviving outside its human host.
What is the life cycle of lice and how do you get it from another person?
There are three stages in its life cycle – Nits, Nymphs and Adults. Nits are pale yellow-white eggs that are laid and attached to the bases of hair shafts. They gestate for 7 days and then break out into a nymph form. After about a week in this stage, they become full grown adults and live for about 30 days.
These bugs spread by a method called contact transmission. They are incapable of travelling down from the hair, down to the ground and then onto another person’s hair – they only spread through close contact. That’s why they are more commonly found on kids, who unfortunately spend a lot of time in close contact with each other in schools and play areas.
What are head lice symptoms and how can you prevent its infestation?
The common symptoms are:
- Itchy scalp
- Multiple itchy spots on scalp
- Repeated itchiness on same spots
- Swollen glands at the base of the neck
- ‘Crawly’ sensation on the scalp
- Irritation and burning sensation in scalp area above the ears
- Teary and yellowish eyes (in case of extreme infestation)
- It is also possible to visually see these bugs moving, especially near the forehead and neck areas
- You can also see nits, which are whitish yellow in color and resemble dandruff or hair spray particles
While it is easy to spot symptoms, preventing an infestation may not so simple. Even if you take good care of your hair and have stellar personal hygiene, these things could easily take hold of you, via a simple contact with a host. Constant monitoring and frequent checks are the only ways to minimize the effects of an infestation. You must also keep limited contact with the infected person. These things can also spread when people use the same hair brushes, clips, scarves and towels. of the infected person.
How to get rid of lice and nits in hair?
If you have fallen victim to an infestation, you need to get rid of those critters as soon as possible. Unfortunately, there is no ‘single step’ magic formula to eliminate this parasite. It is a multi step process that can run into a few days, before you start seeing results. Here’s a detailed look at the process:
Treating head lice with medication and getting rid of adult bugs; Preventing nits from hatching and Getting rid of lice eggs; Checking for nits – To prevent relapse
2 methods for head lice treatment:
There are two methods of treatment – Home remedies and Pediculicides
Method 1: Pediculicides: These are chemical compounds, similar to insecticides in formulation and effectiveness. There are many FDA approved chemical solutions, sold under various brand names in the market. Most of these compounds are effective but their effectiveness can range from 40% to 90% (percentage of insects killed after treatment).
How does this work?
When this solution is applied to the hair, It starts affecting the respiratory, circulatory and nervous systems of the insects. It can take a few hours for the adult insects to die. These can then be removed manually with the help of a comb; or washed away with special soap solution; or blown away with the help of hair dryer.
Advantages: Pediculicides are proven effective. Even if the first treatment cycle fails, the second and third cycles will clean out all remaining insects from the hair.
Limitations: This method does not help in eradicating nits. The cycles have to be repeated at least twice (to allow time for all eggs to hatch, before cleaning them out with the compounds).
Disadvantages: Almost all pediculicides cause side effects. Some people are sensitive to these chemicals and may develop skin and scalp ailments, which are much more serious in nature when compared to pediculosis.
Method 2: Home Remedies for Pediculosis: Many people prefer traditional lice removal methods over chemical compounds, to avoid side effects. Scientific studies have shown that traditional home remedies are as effective as pediculicides (if not better!) which strengthens the argument for their usage.
How does this work?
Age old louse treatment methods involve using herbal oils to suffocate, smother, stun or kill the lice, before they can be picked off by manual combing. There are many natural substances used in this treatment and we’ll take a detailed look at some of the more popular ones a little later in the article. Traditional remedies work over time and it can take many days of continuous treatment, before you can see results.
Advantages: Lack of side effects is a major advantage. This treatment is cost effective and can also provide other hair care benefits as co-results in people.
Limitations: This process takes longer in comparison to the first method. There are no cycles – people will have to continue with the treatment every day, without any breaks.
Disadvantages: People will have to walk and work with the herbal oils applied on their head, for the entire duration. You’ll have to endure many days of smelly and sticky head hair.
Both these treatment methods are effective only for adult lice eradication and for preventing egg hatching; not for egg removal.
Getting rid of nits from hair:
Nits are almost indestructible. They are well protected and well entrenched onto the hair strands. Unlike on adult insects, chemicals and natural medicines don’t have any effect on them. It will take a lot of manual effort and repetition to get them out effectively. Nit removal can simultaneously be done when people are undergoing lice treatment.
Nit combing is the most effective way to eradicate nits. The eggs get snagged between the micro gaps of the comb teeth and they can then be swiped away with a piece of cloth. Nit combing is an elaborate time consuming procedure but it cannot be avoided. Other egg removal methods include: Hair blowers, Lather solution application, herbal shampooing procedures and even hand picking (this is how the word nitpicking originated!) If nits are not removed during treatment stage, people will have to wait for them to hatch and then start the treatment cycle again.
It is important to check for recurrence of lice after the treatment is complete. Remember, none of the methods give you 100% results and so, there is every chance of some insects escaping and reproducing again. To completely get rid of these bugs, you’ll need to visually check for nits, after a 10 day interval.
Natural Lice Treatment – 5 Popular Remedies:
Olive Oil: This natural oil acts as a smothering agent and clogs the breathing canal of the critters. Even though lie can live for many hours without breathing, repeated application of the oil can eventually kill off all the bugs. The dead critters can then be shampooed away or combed off. It can take 10-14 days for this method to show results.
Neem Oil: Neem oil is a natural insecticide and disinfectant. The great benefit with this ingredient is that is virtually has no side effects – not even on people with sensitive skin and allergies. Neem oil directly attacks the internal organs and nervous system of the critters and so, the effectiveness of it is immediate. The only drawback is its pungent odor. Since people have to keep the hair coated with the oil for the entire duration of treatment, they have to endure the horrible smell at all times.
Tea Tree Oil: This is another popular one. Tea tree oil is slightly acidic in nature and it reacts immediately with the external organs of the lice. It is also a smothering agent and so, the critters are simultaneously suffocated along with the acid burns. Tea tree oil, however, cannot be used by all people because it can cause skin irritation and swollen glands, especially in people who’re prone to allergic reactions.
Vaseline/Petroleum Jelly: This is popular in some countries. People apply Vaseline or petroleum based jelly on their hair, in an attempt to smother the lice. Repeated application over a period of 10-15 days will clean the lice off the hair. Petroleum jellies are non reactive on skin and so, the chances of allergies are extremely rare. However, it is very difficult to wash off the jelly and sometimes, people may also end up losing some hair during the washing process.
Garlic and Soap Nut: The pungent fumes released from garlic clogs the respiratory system of lice, who become weak and loosen their grip on the hair. This process also involves washing the garlic coated hair with soap nut solution. Soap nut is a naturally occurring plant and its abrasive nature will wash away all the weakened lice from the hair. People using this method have to exercise extreme caution because if the soap nut solutions gets into the eyes, it can cause extreme stinging and pain. (It is not dangerous but extremely painful and irritating for at least half hour).
All these natural methods will have to be followed by nit combing, to make sure the eggs are removed along with the adult critters.
Frequently Asked Lice Removal Questions:
- Does Hair Dye Kill Lice?
Yes, it used to and still does sometimes! But unfortunately most lice have mutated and have become resistant to ammonia present in hair dyes. In any case, the dyes won’t kill nits, it is therefore not a permanent solution.
- Where does lice come from originally?
No one really knows and there are too many genetic varieties of lice, to pin point an accurate origin. Some studies indicate that the most common Variety of lice originated in North America.
- ‘Lice like clean hair’ myth, is it true?
It is a myth and it most definitely is false. The condition and health of hair have little to do with lice existence and proliferation.
- Do lice always itch?
Yes, a lice bite on the scalp will cause an itch every time. However, scalp itchiness can be caused by many other reasons too – dandruff and allergies are the common reasons. Check for those before starting your lice treatment!
- How bad does your head itch with lice?
The itch intensity is directly proportional to the size of infestation. If you have more lice per square inch on your scalp, be prepared for a super itchy time till you eradicate the critter.
- Does lice give you bumps on your head?
Yes they do leave miniscule little bumps on places they bite. These bumps can be more pronounced in the areas around the back of neck and above the ears, where the skin is extra sensitive.
- Can you feel lice moving on your head?
Yes, it is proven that people can feel the movement. But it is also proven that 99% of the times, that crawly sensation is a psychological one, triggered by the worry and self awareness of your lice problem.
- What to do if you think you have lice?
Get yourself a nit comb and spend some time combing your hair and examining the comb after each swipe. If you have lice, you’ll either see a live one or the nits on the comb, before too long.
- How long does it take to realize you have lice?
It unfortunately takes 10-15 days for you to realize the problem. All initial itchiness is passed off as allergic reaction by most people. People realize the infestation only after the nits start appearing.
- Will lice go away on its own?
Never. You have to treat it and eradicate it. Otherwise, you’ll end up infecting your entire family and continue with an itchy existence.