> Head Lice Treatment
Head lice or head louse is a parasitical wingless insect that have
been around for longer than you may think. DNA analysis of Peruvian
mummies dating back 10,000 years shows that head lice and nits were
present in ancient Egyptian times. Dead lice eggs have been extracted
from the mummies of even Egyptian Pharaohs. Head lice are prevalent
on all continents of the world and are only found on humans (as opposed
to other mammals or animals).
From one to three mm long in size, the head louse has a distinctive
head with a pair of antenna and mouth that are well adapted for
piercing skin and drawing blood. However, these are retracted into
the insect’s head when not in action. Head lice can start
out grayish in color but soon change to a reddish hue as the insect
goes on sucking blood from its human host. A head louse has a pair
of eyes and six short claw-like legs and a thumb with which the
insect grasps the hair of its victim host. Apart from sucking blood
from its human host, head louse do not create any other complications
for the host except causing slight irritation and discomfort.
To ensure uninterrupted feeding, the lice bites through the soft
scalp skin of the host (which is generally painless) and injects
its saliva into it that prevents blood from clotting. Though any
part of the scalp may be infested with the lice, the most affected
areas are the nape of the neck and the area behind the ears where
the eggs are usually laid. Head lice, like fleas, stay on the host
for their entire life cycle. Head lice are related to the crab louse
and to body lice.
As mentioned, head lice has been around for millennia and therefore
the ‘causes’ are simply the transmission of the lice
from one host to another. Head lice can spread through direct contact
two heads (the most common form of spreading) or through the sharing
of combs, brushes, clothes, beds or any other object where there
is shared contact the head area. Children, in particular, suffer
from lice because of their close interaction with each other. This
is particularly prevalent in schools where children play with one
another every day. Head lice outbreaks in schools are very common
and spread quickly amongst the children, particularly girls whose
hair is on the average longer than boys.
People with head lice often have an itchy scalp. This is due to
the head lice feeding on the blood under the skin. Although the
initial ‘bite’ is usually unnoticed, the after effects
of the bite (and multiple bites) can cause redness and itchiness.
It was once believed that the itchiness was caused by the host’s
unsavory hygiene (which was originally thought to be the cause of
head lice) but we now know that lice can be caught by anyone with
any level of hygiene. Head lice do not discriminate their hosts
except in the fact that they tend to infest people with longer hair.
Diagnosing head lice is relatively easy. If your child has an itchy
scalp or other children in their school have head lice, a simple
‘head check’ can be performed. Using a comb, gently
fold back layers of hair around the nape of the neck and behind
the ears. Search for actual lice on the scalp (tiny grayish or reddish
parasites approx 1-3 mm long) or for grayish ‘eggs’
stuck to the hair (also about the same size). At first they can
be difficult to spot, but once your eyes adjust they are plainly
visible. If you are in doubt, take your child to the doctor. If
it is confirmed that your child has head lice, deal with the problem
immediately (see treatment section) and do not let them attend school
until the lice is eradicated.
Head lice can travel from one person to another quite easily and
this is why head lice treatment is essential. A lot of social stigma
also comes with head lice, and people usually refrain from mixing
with those who are infected. This is another reason why head lice
treatment becomes essential, especially for children.
Though people in economically compromising countries use lighter
forms of insecticides to get rid of head lice, its toxic effects
can be harmful to children and hence the practice should be abandoned.
Prevention and cure of head lice can be a solo operation if practiced
with a bit of patience and perseverance. Examination of the child’s
head with the help of a louse comb at regular intervals will allow
Head lice can be ‘picked’ off the hair with tweezers
and discarded or killed in an alcohol solution. Although this sometimes
works, it is very rare that you will get all of the lice and therefore
reproduction and imminent infestation is likely to recur.
The best way to eradicate head lice is to use a shampoo treatment
cycle. There are many head lice shampoos and hair serums available,
which you can get via a prescription. Some of these shampoos contain
harsh chemicals that can adversely affect you or your child when
used excessively. With natural treatments becoming more and more
common, there are now alternatives to harsh chemicals.
As mentioned before, you can pick out the lice one by one. If eggs
have not been laid, this is a good way of ridding the head lice
without using harsh shampoos. Many other natural substances such
as tea tree oil and other natural oils have been proven to be effective
in some products. Some people actually cover the entire scalp with
Vaseline, oil or mayonnaise and leave it overnight (with a bath
cap). The next morning the substance is washed off – this
is thought to ‘smother’ the lice. Some physicians believe
that the removal of the oil or mayonnaise simply removes the lice
as well (because of the thorough cleaning needed) and thus it is
the removing and not the smothering that makes this method valid.
There is not much one can do to prevent their child from getting
head lice. Some rules of thumb are to have your child always bring
their own pillows, blankets and pajamas for sleepovers. If there
is a head lice outbreak at their school, educate your child on how
head lice spreads and make sure they take the proper precautions.
For adults, try and avoid sharing combs or brushes. Minimal ‘scalp’
contact with your child is difficult, however weekly head checks
are a good idea to ensure you notice the head lice before it spreads
through your household. Always deal with head lice immediately.