How do I know if I have lice?

Hearing that someone at our child’s school has lice, or discovering that our own child does, is not pleasant. However, it is more common than we think. Experts estimate that each year between 6 and 12 million children between the ages of 3 and 12 contract these insects.

Luckily, lice can be treated by a variety of methods and are easy to get rid of. Their appearance is not related to not being clean people, so anyone can suffer from them. In addition, they do not transmit disease, beyond an annoying continuous itch in the head.

What are lice?

Lice are tiny insects called parasites that are spread by personal contact, as well as by sharing personal items. Children are particularly prone to catching and spreading these hairy bugs.

There are three main types , and while they all come from the same family of parasites, each is a different species:

  • You can find lice on the scalp, neck, and ears.
  • Body lice start on clothes or beds, but move from those places onto people’s skin.
  • Pubic lice are also called “crabs.” They can be found on pubic hair and skin.

The life cycle of a louse begins as an egg, also called a nit. The nit is a whitish-yellow spot about 1 millimeter long. Sticks firmly to a single strand of hair close to the scalp. After 7 to 10 days, the nit hatches and becomes what is known as a nymph or young louse. Nymphs usually measure between 1.1 and 1.3 millimeters, and are tan or white in color. Nymphs mature into adult lice in about 9 to 12 days.

Mature lice tend not to grow more than 2 millimeters and females are larger than males. They both live between three and four weeks. As long as a food source is available, an adult louse can live for up to 30 days on a human. However, lice can continue to multiply. Females lay up to six eggs each day.

Main symptoms

Some signs of head lice can be noticed right away, especially if our child (or ourselves) does not normally have these problems:

  • Excessive or abnormal itching of the scalp
  • Scratch the head
  • Tingling sensations on the scalp
  • Bumps or irritation on the scalp from scratching
  • Trouble sleeping, as lice are nocturnal and can be more bothersome at night
  • Small yellow or tan spots on the shaft of hair strands, which may be lice eggs (or nits)

We may not notice head lice symptoms right away. It is not uncommon for children to scratch their heads and other symptoms can take weeks to appear.

Scratching your head and having small white specks in your hair can also be symptoms of dandruff. Dandruff is a condition in which dead skin cells are shed from the scalp. But if we feel the need to rub the hair and the specks do not fall from the hair, it is possible that they are nits.

As soon as we notice these symptoms, it is advisable to brush the hair with a comb, a magnifying glass, and a bright light to find and identify any adult lice or nits. While nits look like tiny dots, adult lice are the size of a small seed and are usually tan or gray in color.

How do they spread?

Lice do not have wings, so they only crawl. However, they can be surprisingly fast. These are transmitted by direct contact with the hair of an affected person. It is common for children to hug and put their heads together. This cannot be completely avoided, but beware of any child who constantly scratches his head or complains of an itchy head.

Lice can also be spread by indirect contact with personal items used by the affected person. For example, by sharing hats, scarves, helmets, or caps. Even shared coat racks can harbor lice. It is also important that each child has their own comb or brush, as well as hair ties and hairpins.

If our son participates in a sport, it is important to make sure that he has his own material and to keep it sanitized. At the pool or gym, make sure they have their own towels and other personal items.

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Effective head lice treatments

If we are concerned about the safety of a lice treatment, natural treatments can also be used. Some research shows that they can be effective in treating infestations. Lice do not live long without a human host, but they can be transferred from one person to another easily through close personal contact. It is important to treat lice immediately and thoroughly to avoid an infestation.

Medicated shampoos are designed to kill adult lice and nits, and may contain ingredients such as pyrethrins and pyrethroids. Unfortunately, shampoos containing pyrethroids may no longer be effective in treating head lice. And, we must bear in mind that we should not use medicinal treatments against lice in children under 2 months.

Over-the-counter treatments

If the infestation is mild, you can treat it at home with an over-the-counter treatment by doing the following:

  • Treat dry hair with a special liquid lice medicine called a pediculicide. It is available as a shampoo or lotion. Some options include pyrethrin, synthetic pyrethrin, or permethrin. Be sure to read the instructions about age and usage requirements carefully.
  • We must put on clean clothes once the treatment is finished.
  • We will wait 8 to 12 hours to see if the lice and nits have been killed.
  • We will use a nit comb (such as a cat and dog flea comb) to remove all dead eggs and lice from the hair.

Prescription treatments

If we still see lice moving, we will try the treatment again and wait to see if the second treatment is effective. If we still see live lice, see your doctor, especially if we’ve already tried various over-the-counter treatments.

They can tell us about prescription treatments like benzyl alcohol or malathion . Children who are at least 6 years old can be treated with malathion and children who are at least 6 months old can be treated with benzyl alcohol.

Essential oils for lice

We can also use essential oils on the hair, such as tea tree oil or nerolidol , to help kill lice and nits. You can even try suffocating agents like olive oil and butter. These can be applied to the scalp and kept on the head overnight under a shower cap to kill lice by suffocating them.

It is important to note that some experts believe that it is actually the hairstyle that does the work: “suffocating” treatments simply stun the lice and make them slower and easier to catch with the comb.

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How do you know if they have disappeared?

These insects can cause your scalp to itch, but so can other skin conditions, such as dandruff, eczema, or even shampoo allergies. Therefore, it is important to know how to detect them, especially in children.

It is recommended to wet the hair first. This slows down the lice and makes them easier to spot. Using a fine-toothed comb to part the hair and shine a bright light is the best option for finding lice. If we have lice, we will notice small brown insects the size of sesame seeds moving or nits that appear to be attached to individual hairs.

Treating lice can be stressful. Ideally, two weeks after the initial treatments we will be free of insects in the hair. However, it is recommended to check the hair frequently to see if lice and nits are still. If after two weeks we still have lice or the scalp seems inflamed or infected, it is recommended to see a doctor. We may need a prescription treatment.

Tricks to prevent its spread

There is no need to spray your home and belongings with potentially dangerous insecticides. Lice are “obligate parasites,” which means that they do not survive for long without a human host. They die within 24 to 48 hours after removal.

After treating the head and removing all nits, there are several recommended follow-up steps:

  • Everyone must change clothes and bedding. These items, as well as hats, scarves, coats and gloves, should be washed in hot water (at least 60 ° C) and heat dried for at least 20 minutes.
  • If something is not machine washable, take it to the dry cleaner. But first, warn the dry cleaning staff about the item’s exposure to lice.
  • Vacuum all chairs, sofas, headboards, and anything else that may have come in contact with someone’s head.
  • Soak combs, brushes, and hair ties in a 10 percent bleach solution for one hour. We can also heat them in water as close to boiling as possible. We can even buy new combs, brushes, and hair ties to make them a safer option.

Since young children are the most common transmitters of lice, it can be difficult to take preventive measures. They may not understand the importance of preventing face-to-face contact with other children. However, there are some tricks that we can follow:

  • Teach him to avoid head-to-head contact with other people and to refrain from playing with or styling other children’s hair.
  • Avoid sharing personal care items like brushes, combs, hats, scarves, and jackets.
  • Check hair every three to four days if head lice have been reported at daycare or school.