Head lice are tiny wingless insects that feed on blood from the human scalp. An infestation of head lice, called pediculosis capitis, most often affects people ages 5-15 years old and usually results from the direct transfer of lice from the hair of one person to the hair of another. They’re easily spread by head-to-head contact, annoying, and tenacious little critters.
The good news is lice are not dangerous, definitely not a sign of poor hygiene, and usually simple to get rid of. We have outlined everything you need to know about lice, and the preventative measures that can be taken to help avoid the spread of head lice.
Signs of Head Lice
Head lice can be seen with the naked eye, making it easy to diagnose. Here are some things to look for:
- Lice eggs called nits are yellow, tan, or brown dots before they hatch. The nits firmly attach on hair shafts close to the scalp, and are more common to see than live crawling lice, unless infestation is heavy. Nits look similar to dandruff, only they cannot be removed by simply shaking them or brushing them off.
- Adult lice are small and and usually grayish-white or tan. Nymphs (baby lice) are smaller than adult lice and grow into mature adults after 1-2 weeks. These parasites can live on the human head for up to 2 days, and after 3 weeks of being untreated the process repeats itself.
- Itching is a main side effect of head lice, and is due to the saliva of the lice. It does not always occur, and usually depends on the sensitivity of someone’s scalp.
- Irritation is usually a result of the intensity of scratching. For some, irritation may be mild, and, for others, it may be more bothersome. Excessive scratching may lead to bacterial infections, which would need to be treated with antibiotics.
How to Perform Head Lice Inspections
Visual inspections are mostly effective in detecting lice. You will need a fine-tooth comb, a bright light, a magnifying glass, and good eyes! Start by parting the hair into small sections, and then go through each section with the fine-tooth comb, and utilize the bright light and magnifying glass to make spotting the little guys easier. Some people also say it’s easier to see the lice when the hair is wet. Following this process you should be able to easily identify if you or the person you’re inspecting indeed does have head lice.
Treatment for Head Lice
A medical professional will usually recommend a medicated shampoo or lotion to kill the head lice. These are over-the-counter medicated shampoos are called pediculicides, and are most commonly applied to dry hair, left on for 10-minutes, and then rinsed off. You should treat the hair again 10 days later just to be safe. Items like clothing, bedding, towels, furniture, and carpet should all be washed in order to avoid infestation recurring or spreading to another member of the family. Other members of the family should also be checked and treated at the same time, if infected.
Ways to Prevent Head Lice
Are you feeling itchy just reading this? The good news is head lice can easily be prevented.
- Educate your children and peers on the no-sharing rule.
- Avoid sharing items that touch other’s heads like brushes, combs, hats, pillows, jackets, scarves, head phones,and towels.
- Avoid selfies! Lice are spread from head-to-head contact.
You can greatly lower your chances of having to deal with lice by being aware of the simple preventive measures.
If you or someone in your family has been affected by head lice and you would like attention from a medical provider, call or walk into a Michigan Urgent Care clinic near you. Open 365 days a year, 10 convenient locations, one commitment to care.