If you or someone in your family has developed head lice, you may feel embarrassed or worry that the problem indicates a lack of good hygiene and self-care. In actuality, head lice are an incredibly common problem, particularly in families with school age children. Millions of people deal with lice infestations and lice eggs every year, and the problem can strike in any household.
Head lice are a type of pest that grows to be up to 2 to 3 millimeters long. The parasites feed off of blood and rely on the heat of the scalp to provide them with warmth and keep them alive. Adult lice lay eggs on the scalp, which are known as nits. The nits take about one week to hatch into juvenile lice called nymphs. Within seven days, the nymphs are fully-grown and ready to produce eggs. Adult lice live up to 30 days when on a person's scalp and die within one day when present on an object.
Outbreaks of head lice occur when one person's scalp comes in contact with lice eggs or adult lice, and then this person goes on to spread the infestation to others. Head lice can be transmitted through head-to-head contact as well as through contact with an object that has nits or live lice on it. Objects that may be contaminated with lice include hats, scarves, brushes, combs, hair decorations, headphones, towels and other linens, pillows and upholstered furniture.
On the scalp, lice eggs are white and resemble dandruff flakes. They may have a slight oily sheen and will be found at the root of the hair. If you attempt to brush off a nit, it will stick to the scalp and hair shaft, rather than flaking off like dandruff or dry skin. Once the nit hatches, the shell takes on a yellow color and remains stuck to the scalp. Usually, lice are accompanied by intense itching, which is caused by an allergic reaction to the saliva of the nymphs and adults.
Even though lice are an embarrassing and uncomfortable problem, an infestation is very treatable. Both home remedies and clinical methods are effective at eliminating both lice eggs and adults.
If you prefer not to rely on chemical insecticides to deal with lice eggs, there are numerous home remedies and natural treatments that you can use to deal with a lice outbreak.
A nit comb is a tool with a rounded plastic handle and wire bristles that have the ability to lift lice and nits away from the scalp. To use a nit comb, wet the hair and run the comb slowly through it. You'll need to make sure you comb all of the hair for the treatment to be effective, and this can be quite time consuming. After the first combing, repeat the process every three to four days for a minimum of two weeks.
Tea Tree Oil
Sometimes called melaleuca oil, tea tree oil is an extract sourced from the leaves of a tree that is native to Australia. Tea tree oil is a natural anti-parasite and has the ability to kill both head lice and their eggs. To treat a lice infestation with tea tree oil, purchase a tea tree oil shampoo and wash with it daily for two weeks. In between shampooing, apply a few drops of pure tea tree oil to the scalp. If you cannot find tea tree oil shampoo, you can also mix a few drops of the oil with your regular shampoo.
The extract from the caca tree, henna, is a red dye that has long been used in India both as a decorative pigment for coloring the hair and skin and for medicinal purposes. Henna can be used to kill lice by mixing it with lemon juice and 25 milligrams of fenugreek for every 100 milligrams of henna. Mix the ingredients, adding juice to produce a thick paste that is similar in thickness to mashed potatoes. Let the paste stand overnight and then work the paste into your scalp, starting at the back. When you have applied the henna all over, wrap your head in plastic and leave the solution in place for two to four hours. Then rinse, shampoo and rinse your hair again. In addition to combating the lice, the henna will also impart a dark red tint to your hair.
Olive Oil Mask
Another way to naturally rid the scalp of lice and lice eggs is by smothering them with an olive oil hair mask. For this remedy, apply pure olive oil liberally to the scalp and massage well. Then, cover your hair with plastic or a tight shower cap and let the olive oil mask rest in place for at least two hours. Rinse your hair thoroughly and then shampoo. For best results, repeat the treatment in a week to ensure you have eliminated the infestation completely.
In addition to home remedies, numerous clinical and over-the-counter treatments are available for dealing with head lice and lice eggs. These chemical pesticides do have the potential to cause side effects in some people.
Among the options are:
· Pyrethrin is an insecticide that attacks the nervous systems of lice and causes them to die. Lice treatments containing pyrethrin are readily available at drugstores and sold under a number of different brand names. Unfortunately, lice in some areas are resistant to pyrethrin and cannot be treated with the chemical.
· Permethrin is another over-the-counter insecticide that eliminates lice by harming their nervous systems. Like pyrethrin, premethrin is featured in a variety of brand name products, but may not be effective for treating lice in some areas of the United States.
· Malathion is a prescription topical drug that can be used by people aged 6 years and older. The drug is applied directly to the scalp and affects the nervous systems of lice. Because malathion is highly flammable, it must be stored in a cool place and not used around hair dryers or cigarettes. Pregnant and breastfeeding women may be unable to use the drug.
· Lindane is another prescription formula that interferes with the functioning of the nervous systems of lice. The drug is available in a shampoo form, which many people find convenient to use; however, lindane has the potential to cause skin rashes and is not safe for use in people with certain medical disorders and diseases, such as a history of seizures or HIV.
While you treat the lice infestation, you'll also need to take steps to clean your home to prevent re-infecting anyone with lice. Bedding, stuffed animals, hats and linens should be washed in water that is at least 130 degrees Fahrenheit to destroy nits and lice. All items that cannot be washed should be sealed in plastic bags for four days in order to suffocate the parasites. Throughout lice treatment, be sure to vacuum your home frequently to pick up stray lice and nits.
If you have children, teach them about lice and instruct them never to share anything that you put on or near your head with another person. Often, children are the primary carriers of lice, so letting kids know the importance of lice prevention can help keep an outbreak in your home from ever occurring.