Contrary to popular belief, head lice are not the result of uncleanliness. Even daily washing cannot prevent the invasion of these pests. Head lice spread quickly, so early detection is critical for timely eradication.
What Are Head Lice?
Head lice are small parasites that feed on human blood. Typically, they inhabit the scalp and hair of humans in search of nourishment and a safe place to exist. Head lice do not feed on animal blood, and so, they do not infest them. These parasites are small, soft, and flat – about the size of a small sesame seed when fully grown. They are typically gray, white, or light tan in color, but they often become reddish in color once they begin feasting on human blood.
Infestation with head lice is not specific to a certain age or gender. It can affect people of all ages and within all socioeconomic classes. The medical term used to refer to head lice infestation is pediculosis. It is also used to refer to all types of lice infestation.
Head lice spread from one individual to another through direct contact with an individual who has already been infested with this parasite or with their personal possessions. This includes hair-care items (brushes, combs, barrettes, curlers, hair accessories), head gear (ear phones, bike helmets, sports helmets), clothing (hats, scarves, sweaters), and bedding (sheets, blankets, pillows, stuffed animals).
While avoidance is the best option when dealing with head lice, it isn’t always possible. No one actually tries to get head lice, it simply occurs due to unfortunate circumstances. However, certain practices can help you and your family to avoid a battle with this parasite. Keeping all of your personal possessions (hair accessories, headgear, and clothing) out of public closets or coat areas is one of the primary methods of avoiding contact with infested items. Since this is not always practical, place your scarf, gloves, and hat in your coat pocket or sleeve to limit direct contact with the possessions of others. Teach your children to do the same.
A comprehensive approach is needed in order to fully eliminate this pest and prevent re-infestation. All strategies should be implemented at the same time. Every item that has touched the head of the infected individual needs to be properly treated.
Vacuum the entire indoor area and discard the bag and its contents in a sealed plastic bag. Use the following strategies on items that are washable: boil them for 10 to 15 minutes in water, soak them in a solution of two cups of hot water with one teaspoon of ammonia or undiluted isopropyl alcohol for a full twenty minutes. All bedding and clothing should be laundered with extremely hot water. Items that cannot be washed should be placed in a plastic bag that is sealed shut for a minimum of 14 days.
Insecticidal treatments should only be used on individuals with confirmed infestation. Since the nits are not killed by these chemicals, the hair and scalp should be thoroughly combed using a nit (egg) comb. Such treatment products are called pediculicide. Many of these are available without a prescription. These solutions are available in shampoos, sprays, and rinses. Some of the most commonly known names include: RID®, Clear®, LICEX®, Nix®, and R & C® lice Treatments. A treatment for head lice that requires a prescription is Ovide®.
One of the more common home remedies for eliminating head lice is to create a suffocation mask using olive oil or a vegetable oil based product. Simply coat the hair and scalp with the mask and cover it with a plastic shower cap for several hours. Rinse with warm water.
Henna treatments have also been shown to kill lice. While traditionally henna has been used to add color to hair, a colorless variety is available which can help minimize lice while also adding shine to the hair. A paste made from henna can be applied to the hair and scalp for several hours in order to suffocate the adult lice and clear up any bacterial infection. This process needs to be repeated up to a full week once to three times a day
Other suggestions include treating the hair/scalp with a mixture of a half-cup of olive oil with 1 ounce of tea tree oil and allowing it to soak in for at least a half hour before rinsing the hair with warm water and combing the eggs and lice out. This method should be repeated three times a day for a minimum of one week. The same process can be followed using Eucalyptus oil in place of the tea tree oil. To prevent re-infestation, simply add a few drops of tea tree oil to your regular shampoo or choose a product that already contains tea tree oil.
Less expensive home remedies include coating the hair with mayonnaise to create a suffocation mask, coating the hair with baby oil to slow down the lice, making them easier to capture with the comb. Hair conditioners are also recommended for this purpose.