Head Lice

Head Lice – Symptoms, Causes, Treatment and Prevention

Head lice are tiny insects which feed off of human blood, and are found on your scalp. They are white-ish to grey brown in color. Lice eggs, or Nits, which are visible to the naked eye and are stuck to an individual’s head who has lice. They sometimes look like dandruff, and can be mistaken for that.

Not everyone has head lice, but it is safe to assume that more than 50% of the people around you have them inhabiting their hair.

Having head lice does not necessarily mean that you are unhygienic or dirty. They can simply be transferred from another person’s hair. They just need human blood to feed on, so having exceptionally clean hair or extremely dirty hair will not make a difference.

Lice infestations are more common among young children, girls mostly. This is because they have longer hair and are hence make it is easier for the head lice to transfer. It is also found in older women, but lice are usually transmitted through young girls in schools. The phenomenon is quite rare in boys, but not non-existent.

Symptoms of Lice Infestation

Usually people do not realize they have been infested with this unwanted nuisance. This is because they are not easily visible to the naked eye. There are certain symptoms which can alert you to a possible lice infestation.

According to Mayo Clinic, if one observes a ticklish or itchy feeling in their scalp, or if they observe small red bumps on the shoulders or neck, along with the presence of nits, then one definitely needs to check their scalp for head lice. The saliva excreted from the lice causes this itching. Itching, however, also depends on the sensitivity of the person’s skin. Excessive scratching can have adverse effects, and eventually lead to bacterial infection. Such cases are treated with anti-biotics. Sometimes when a person has trouble sleeping then also head lice can be a factor, but one needs to check for that.

In the United States, having head lice is not considered a serious hazard, since it does not carry any disease with it, but recent studies have shown head lice are able to carry infectious diseases in some parts of the world.

Causes of Lice Infestation

Head lice are deemed contagious. This is because they transfer easily onto another person’s head. They can be transferred if you share a comb or brush with someone who already has lice, or if your head touches an infected person’s head. Sleeping on the same pillow can also transmit head lice, along with using other personal belongings like hats, towels, sharing hair accessories.

Treating Lice Infestation

In order to treat lice, you first need to have a test. Wet your hair and use a fine toothed comb. Put a white pillow on your lap and start combing your hair. The lice will entangle in the thin bristles and come off. Use a light colored comb for the head lice, and a dark colored comb for nits. If lice are found in your head, this is the most effective way to treat it. It is advised to do it often after you wash your hair, as this mechanical method is chemical free and comparatively harmless than using shampoos and lotions.

Medicated shampoos and creams, which include pediculicides, or insecticides which kill lice, are easily available at any pharmacy or general store. However, it is best to get a prescription from your doctor before doing so. This way, the doctor can recommend a more effective solution. Also, pediculicides is sometimes considered toxic for some people and therefore, it is advised to be used with caution.

There are other over-the-counter medicines available to treat head lice. Benzyl alcohol lotion (Ulesfia) is used on children who are 6 months or older. Another organophosphate pesticide, Malathion (Ovide) is used on children who are 6 years or older. Pregnant women or breast-feeding women should avoid Malathion; it is flammable and it is best to stay away from flames when you have applied this product on your scalp.

An orgaanochloride pesticide by the name of Lindane, is found in lotions and shampoos and is normally used as a last resort. This is due to its harsh side effects, which may include death as well (in worse case scenarios). People with a heart problem should not use Lindane under any circumstances.

Young children with lice are expected to be treated with less chemical products, because those have more side effects. Children have more sensitive skins comparatively; hence they should be treated with caution. The best method for them is to use the manual way to get rid of lice, and avoid chemicals.

Head Lice – Symptoms, Causes, Treatment and Prevention

Preventing Lice Infestation from Happening

Head lice does not mean one is not hygiene conscious or unkempt; it is simple a nuisance which comes from another person and can be treated easily. It is advised to avoid contact (head to head), with other people, since this is the most common way to transfer head lice. Be it at school, or at home with friends or family, be careful.

Avoid sharing brushes or combs, towels, scarves, bandanas and also don’t use the same pillow as someone who you think might have head lice. This way, you can reduce the risk of having this unwanted menace. Most importantly, keep a check on those around you, for head lice. Every 4-5 days, check your own hair and your child’s too (if any). If you spot a close family member with lice, tell them in confidence and help them treat it before it spreads.

Once you or the ones around you are free of lice and nits, do check regularly. It is best to detect the nuisance early and then treat it accordingly. If you are parents and you find head lice in your child’s scalp, it is advised to warn your child’s close friend’s parents and school about it. That way they can keep a check on their children themselves and take the necessary measures.

© Teresa Boardman, Nanny Options.

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