Lice are small insects that live on people’s heads. Adult lice are the size of sesame seeds. The eggs, called nits, are even smaller, about the size of a film. Lice and nits are found in or near the scalp, most often on the neck and behind the ears. Head lice can also be found on eyebrows and eyelashes.
Lice are parasites and need to feed on human blood to survive. They are one of three types of lice that live in humans. The other two types are body lice and pubic lice. Each type of louse is different, and being infected with one type does not mean you will be infected with another.
WHAT CAUSES LICE ?
Head lice infect this part of the body. The little eggs on the hair look like dandruff scales. However, instead of separating from the scalp, they stay in place.
Lice can live up to 30 days in a person. Their eggs can live more than 2 weeks.
Having lice does NOT mean that the person is unhygienic, or of a lower social class.
HOW ARE LICE SPREAD ?
Lice move by crawling, as they cannot jump or fly. They are spread through close person-to-person contact. On rare occasions, they may pass on personal items such as hats or hairbrushes. Personal hygiene and cleanliness are not related to the presence of lice. You can’t get animal lice either. Lice do not transmit disease.
Lice are more common in crowded and confined living conditions.
You may be infested with head lice if:
- You come into close contact with someone who has lice.
- Touch the clothes or bedding of someone who has lice.
- Share hats, towels, brushes or combs from someone who has lice.
WHO IS AT RISK OF GETTING LICE ?
In most cases, lice affect children between the ages of 3 and 11 and their families. This is because young children often have their heads close together when they play at school.
WHAT ARE THE SYMPTOMS OF LICE?
Symptoms of lice include:
- Tingling sensation in the head
- Frequent itching caused by an allergic reaction to bites Itchy wounds
- Sometimes wounds can become infected with bacteria
- Small red bumps on the scalp, neck and shoulders (bumps can cause scabies and suppuration)
- Small white spots (eggs or nits) near the root of each hair that are difficult to remove.
- Difficulty sleeping, as lice are more active in the dark
HOW DO YOU KNOW IF YOU HAVE LICE ?
In general, the diagnosis of lice is obtained by seeing lice or nits on the head. Because they are very small and move quickly, you may need to use a magnifying glass and a fine-toothed comb to detect lice or nits.
Lice can be difficult to see. You have to observe very closely. Wear disposable gloves and examine the person’s head under a bright light. Full sun or the brightest lights in your home during the day work well. Using a magnifying glass can help.
To check for head lice:
- Divide the hair down to the scalp in very small sections.
- Examine the scalp and hair for lice and moving eggs.
- Check the whole head in this way.
- Look closely at the top of the neck and the ears (the most frequented areas for eggs).
Children and adults should be treated immediately if lice or nits are found.
WHAT ARE THE TREATMENTS FOR LICE ?
Lice treatments available from pharmacists include over-the-counter and prescription shampoos, creams and lotions. If you want to use an over-the-counter treatment and you don’t know which one to use or how to use it, consult your doctor or pharmacist. You should also ask your doctor if you are pregnant or breastfeeding, or if you want to use a treatment for a young child.
Follow these steps when using a lice treatment:
- Apply the product according to the instructions. Apply only to the scalp and hair. You should not use it on any other hair.
- Use only one product at a time, unless your doctor tells you to use two different types at once.
- Pay attention to the instructions: Check how long to apply the medication in your hair and how you should rinse it out.
- After rinsing, use a fine-toothed comb or a special comb to remove dead lice and nits.
- After each treatment, check your head for remaining lice and nits. Comb out nits and lice every few days. Do this for two to three weeks to make sure all lice and nits are gone.
All persons living in the home and other close members should be checked and treated if necessary. If an over-the-counter treatment doesn’t work for you, you can ask your doctor for a prescription product.
HOW CAN LICE BE PREVENTED ?
There are steps you can take to prevent the spread of lice. If you already have lice, in addition to treatment, you should:
- Wash your clothes, bedding and towels in hot water and dry them on the hottest cycle of the dryer.
- Soak your combs and brushes in hot water for 5 to 10 minutes.
- Vacuum the floor and furniture, especially where you are sitting or lying down.
- If you can’t wash certain items, seal them in a plastic bag for two weeks.
To prevent your children from spreading lice:
- Teach children to avoid direct contact when playing or doing other activities.
- Teach children not to share clothing and other items that go on their heads, such as headphones, hair ties and headphones.
- If your child has lice, check the school and/or daycare rules. Your child may not be able to attend until the lice have been completely treated.
There is no clear scientific evidence that lice can be suffocated with home remedies such as mayonnaise, olive oil or similar substances. You should not use kerosene or gasoline, they are dangerous and flammable.
Some people develop a skin infection by scratching. Antihistamines can help relieve itching.
WHEN TO CONTACT A HEALTH CARE PROFESSIONAL
Check with your doctor if:
- You still have symptoms after home treatment.
- There are reddened or tender areas of skin, which could mean an infection.
ALWAYS CONSULT A PROFESSIONAL FOR HIGH QUALITY LICE EXTERMINATION
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