Head lice are minute parasitic insects that inhabit the human head, especially hairs, and feed on minute amounts of blood drawn from the scalp. Head lice are wingless insects that append to the scalp and spread from one child infested with them to another by means of direct contact.
Often known to be a bane for parents, invasion of head lice, medically known as ‘pediculosis’, is not related to the hygiene of an individual, but is concerned with proximity. For instance, two children having their heads touching one another’s while working on a project, sharing a book, wrestling or playing a video game, lice can be transmitted from the head of the infested child to the other, who is free from this parasitic insect.
It may be noted that even if a single child in a class is infested with lice, it is possible that all the children in the class may also be infested by the insect sooner or later. In addition, any child attending a summer camp is especially vulnerable to infestation by head lice provided any of the cabin mates also has head lice. Apart from direct contact, lice have the aptitude to spread very simply by means of sharing combs, clothing, hats, pillows, sheets and hair brushes.
In case your child has been complaining of a uncomfortable head or if you observe them scraping their head relentlessly, it is advisable that you examine their scalp closely. If you fail to notice anything on her scalp under the normal light, use a flashlight to enable you to see better. Head lice have the appearance of minute encircling greying protuberances on the scalp.
If you examine closely you may possibly see eggs, called nits, on the length of the hair shaft. Examine the lymph nodes (diminutive oval-shaped appendage of the immune system) in the neck of your child as well as at the backside of her head. The lymph nodes may become enlarged if the child scratches them resulting in a secondary infection.
It has been found that the female lice lay as many as four to five eggs daily and keep on doing it unless the process is stopped by applying some aggressive treatment. In the event of your child being infested by head lice, you ought to inform the authorities at her school, camp and all other public or community areas from where she might have contacted the infestation or, alternately, transmitted the parasite to other children. In order to help your child from being infested with head lice once she has been treated of the menace, it is important to undertake a quick and meticulous cleaning of the community.
Precisely speaking, head lice are really very uncomfortable and may result in relentless irritation. Owing to persistent scratching, the scalp of your child may become raw and result in an infection, such as impetigo, making matters worse. Therefore, when you are combing or washing your child’s hair, look for warnings or symptoms of any localized infection.
Although head lice are extremely minute, it is possible to see the parasite even with naked eyes. What you or your healthcare provider is able to see on close examination of the child’s scalp is discussed in brief below.
Lice eggs (also known as nits): The eggs of lice are minute and have the appearance of yellow, tan or brown specks prior to being hatched. Generally, lice lay their eggs on the hair shaft near to the scalp – the temperature at this place is ideal to keep the eggs warm till they are hatched. Nits have an appearance that is somewhat akin to dandruff, the only difference being that one cannot get rid of them by brushing or shaking them of the head.
Except for a heavy infestation of head lice, one can generally see the nits in the hair of a child instead of seeing the live lice creeping on the child’s scalp. Normally, the hatching period for lice eggs is one to two weeks from the time they are laid. When the eggs are hatched and the lice come out of their shell, the shell has a white or clear appearance and still remains firmly stuck to the hair shaft. In fact, when the shells stick to the hair shaft after the eggs are hatched, it is easiest to notice them. This is primarily owing to the fact that as the hair grows in length, the shells stuck on the hair shaft move more further from the scalp.
Adult lice and nymphs (baby lice): Generally, an adult louse (singular for lice) is approximately of the size of a sesame seed and has a greyish-white or tan color. The nymphs or baby lice are normally much smaller in size and turn into adult lice after around one or two weeks following the time they are hatched. Majority of the lice survive on small amounts of blood drawn from the scalp several times every day. However, it has been found that lice are also able to live for as many as two days remaining off the scalp.
Scratching: When a child is infested with head lice, it becomes very uncomforting and she begins to scratch to get relief from the itching on the scalp. The itching actually occurs owing to an effect of the saliva released by lice. Nevertheless, the itching may not begin right from the first day of having head lice, but largely depends on the extent of whether the child’s skin is sensitive or susceptible to lice. At times, it may take a number of weeks for a child having head lice to begin scratching her scalp. Normally, children having head lice complain of things crawling about on their scalp resulting in an irritating sensation on the scalp.
Tiny, red lumps or sores due to scratching: In case of some children infested with head lice, the irritation is gentle, while many others may experience appearance of a more annoying rash on the scalp. In addition, too much scratching may also result in bacterial infection and in such cases, the skin on the scalp would turn red and sore and may also have flaking and seeping accompanied by distended lymph glands. In the event of your doctor diagnosing the case as a bacterial infection, he may prescribe oral antibiotics to treat the condition.
In addition, when you closely check the scalp of your child you may also be able to observe the lice or the tiny nits by splitting the hair of your child into little sections. In addition, you may also part her hair and look for lice and nits using a fine-toothed comb on her scalp, at the back of the ears and also in the region of the nape.
It is, however, very unlikely to find lice or nits on the eyelashes or eyebrows of children infested with head lice. If you are unable to see properly under normal light, use a microscope and a bright light to examine in a better manner. However, it may be quite tricky to detect an adult louse or a nymph because they usually have the ability to move very fast and you generally would not find many of them around.
You may try different home remedies to treat head lice, but there may be occasions when you might require calling your doctor. For instance, you ought to call your doctor if you notice that your child is relentlessly scratching his/ her hear or whine about a tickly/ scratchy scalp that is somewhat obdurate.
Once the doctor examines the scalp of your child, he would be in a position to confirm whether your child has been infested with head lice and requires some kind of treatment. However, every child does not have the typical symptoms of having head lice and many of them may even be completely free from any type of symptom.
It needs to be underlined that being infested by head lice is in no way related to being unhygienic or unclean. In fact, these horrible minute parasitic bugs can cause problems for children of all ages, societies and economic levels around the world, irrespective of how frequently they clean their hair or take a bath. Nevertheless, it is possible for you to assist your children from developing head lice infestation or even being infested with lice even when they are treated of this menace once. To do this, you may undertake the precautions mentioned below:
Instruct your children to keep away from coming into head-to-head contact with other children at school, especially on the playground, in the gym or during sports events, and also when they are playing with other children at home. Also advise your children against sharing their combs, hair brushes, hair bands or ties, hats, ribbons, scarves, barrettes, bandanas, helmets, towels or any other item that is used for personal care with any one else, irrespective of the fact if they have lice or not.
In addition, also inform your children that they should not lie down on pillows, beddings and carpets that have been used by any individual having lice. It is also advisable that once in every three to four days you check the scalp of all the members of your family who might have had a close contact with individuals having lice. Administer proper treatment to the family members who might be found having lice or nits on their scalp or hair shaft.
Supplements and herbs
A number of herbs and supplements are known to be effective in treating head lice, which are basically parasites feeding on small amounts of blood drawn out from the scalp. For instance, the balsam of Peru possesses anti-parasitic attributes and eliminates the mite called Acarus as well as its eggs. This herbal product is also effective in treating eczema, scabies as well as other skin disorders.
Balsam of Peru may be applied to the scalp separately or diluted with oil. Following the application of this herb on your child’s hair and scalp, it is important that her hair is combed with a fine-toothed comb in order to get rid of the dead lice and eggs from the hair shaft.
In case your child develops a secondary infection from scratching the irritating scalp caused by head lice, it is essential to give your child a combination formula prepared with the herbs Echinacea and goldenseal to enhance her immune system. This immune-boosting combination herbal formula should be given in one dose taken thrice every day continuously for five days. In addition, a tincture or herbal tea prepared with goldenseal may be used to rinse the hair when the scalp is infested with head lice.
It may be noted that garlic, which possesses anti-parasitic properties, too is effective in facilitating your child’s body combat against head lice infestation. One dose of garlic should be given thrice every day, for five consecutive days.
Tea tree oil (botanical name, Melaleuca altemifolia) also possesses potent disinfectant properties and it facilitates in eliminating head lice. In order to obtain best results, add 25 drops of tea tree oil to one pint (19.2152 fluid ounces) of spring or distilled water and massage this blend into the hair and scalp of your child at least thrice every day. After applying this mixture, comb her hair meticulously with a fine-toothed comb to get rid of the lice and their eggs from the hair shaft.
Commonly used essential oils for lice:
Additional things you may do
Apart from using herbs and supplements to treat infestation of head lice, there are several other things that you may do in order to eliminate lice and their eggs (nits) as well as assist in preventing the lice from infesting the child again. A few of the things that may help you to achieve this are briefly mentioned below.
First and foremost, you need to wash all clothing and bed linens that were worn or used recently by any member of your household who was infested with head lice in exceedingly hot water (around 130°F or 54.4°C) and subsequently place them in the dryer’s hot cycle for a minimum of 20 minutes. In addition, get all clothing, bed linens, expensive toys and stuffed animals that are not washable, dry cleaned.
Alternately, keep these things sealed in airtight bags for around two weeks. You also need to vacuum clean the carpets and all upholstered furniture in your home as well as in your car.
Take out all the hair-care items, such as combs, hair brushes, hair bands and ties, barrettes and headbands, in your household and immerse them in alcohol or medicated shampoo for a minimum of one hour and rub them clean. Alternately, you may also discard them or simply wash them in very hot water. Since lice have the aptitude to spread from one individual to another in the same house very easily, family members infested by head lice as well as bed mates would require adequate treatment to avoid the lice from infesting them again.
Home remedies for getting rid of adult head lice
Head lice infestation is more prevalent among children of all ages and in order to get rid of head lice infestation you may try a number of home remedies that will prove to be effective in killing the lice as well as their eggs (nits). For instance, you may use a home remedy containing oil, such as essential oils, olive oil or any oily substance like mayonnaise to eliminate adult head lice.
Many would wonder as to how does oil work to eliminate adult head lice. The answer to this is quite simple, since oils possess specific attributes, for instance, viscosity, which does not allow the lice to breathe and when they are covered with oil, the lice generally die unable to breathe normally (asphyxiate).
It has been found that applying only some drops of lavender oil at the back of the ears force the lice to run away. Although applying this oil may work wonderfully, it is advised that you ought to be careful and not use the method in actual treatment process to get rid of adult head lice.
The efficiency of this solution is conditional on the individual child as well as the extent of infestation by adult head lice at that particular time. In fact, there are several different oil-based formulations, particularly using the essential oils of different plant, but in reality in most of these essential oils are effectual or helpful only when they are applied blended with other substances, for instance,
olive oil, and also with enough combing/ brushing of the infested hair.
However, some essential oils, such as the tea tree oil (botanical name, Melaleuca altemifolia), are effectual when used on their own and do not required to be mixed with other substances.
Home remedies for getting rid of lice eggs
It has been found that dissolving the shells of the live lice eggs, also known as nits, is among the best methods to get rid of head lice infestation. These live eggs are certain to die when they do not receive any protection from their exoskeleton or their shells. In order to eliminate the live lice eggs, you may use a number of home remedies containing acids like lemon juice or vinegar. Alternately, you may also combine the two substances, generally blending olive oil with any essential oil, or any essential oil with vinegar.
Other beneficial herbs
- Bergamot Orange
- Canadian Lousewort
- Devil’s Club
- Jamaican Dogwood
- Kaffir Lime
- Lead Tree