Getting Rid of Lice + How To Keep Them Away
Table of Contents
Lice. A word that every parent dreads. Their presence in hair can be embarrassing, uncomfortable and make the whole family potentially prone to infections. Contrary to popular belief, anyone can get lice.
However, the most common lice infestations are head lice, although other less common kinds of louse can attach themselves to the body or clothes (body lice) as well as to hair of the pubic region (public lice or crabs). The latter is actually not a louse at all but a member of another species, however they are often associated with lice since the symptoms and treatments are similar. Those most at risk of head lice are children aged between 4 and 11 who spend a lot of their time playing with other children. Unlike fleas, lice cannot jump or fly. They are transmitted only via head-to-head contact.
In this post we’ll take a close look at how to identify and prevent an infestation of lice. We’ll also answer some frequently asked questions about lice and recommend some products to deal with them effectively…
How to Prevent Lice
As with most things, when it comes to lice prevention is always the best cure. Head lice can spread rapidly, and if someone in your child’s school has lice, they can put their peers at risk.
In order to prevent lice, it helps to understand what attracts them in the first place. First of all, it’s important to remember that the presence of lice in your child’s hair does not mean that you or they are unclean or unhygienic. Quite the opposite in fact. Lice are attracted to clean, glossy hair. Like all organisms, they want somewhere nice to live. However, while lice rarely represent a serious problem, they can certainly be a nuisance.
If word reaches you that one of your child’s peers has head lice, there are a number of preventative measures you can take.
Some studies have shown that plant oils like rosemary, citronella, eucalyptus, tea tree and lemon grass may be effective in repelling head lice.
It’s also a good idea to tell your kids to avoid head-to-head contact with other kids when playing / hugging etc. Kids should avoid sharing accessories like hats, scarves and coats, as well as combs, brushes, hair accessories and even headphones / ear buds. Kids should also avoid storing their hats and coats in shared spaces where they are likely to come into contact with those of their peers.
Still, as proactive as you are in keeping your family safe from lice, you can never be 100% certain that you’ll avoid contact with them. With that in mind, let’s take a close look at how to identify an infestation of lice in your household.
How to Identify Lice
Being able to identify lice is important if you’re to take appropriate action to get rid of them. By examining your child’s hair carefully with a comb you should be able to spot lice and their eggs (nits).
Let’s take a look at each stage of a louse’s lifecycle so that you know what to look for;
- Adult lice- Most adult lice are around 2-3 mm long, about the size of a sesame seed or a small grain or rice. They are grayish white in color or tan. They have 6 legs with claws that allow them to gain purchase in hair. Once it has made itself at home in the scalp, a louse can live for up to 30 days.
- Nymphs- These infant lice grow for 9-12 days in the hair, feeding on the blood in the scalp. You have to be quick to catch them because (like their adult counterparts) they will always run away from light.
- Nits- The eggs of a louse are called nits. They are oval shaped and can cling persistently to the first inch or two of hair. They are usually a yellowish white color and can blend in with the color of the hair. They usually hatch within 8-9 days leaving a clear grayish empty shell which remains stuck to the hair shaft.
It’s a good idea to check for signs of lice once a week if you hear of an infestation in your child’s school. As well as checking the scalp, don’t forget to check the nape of the neck, behind the ears and under bangs.
If your child has lice, remember that they can also spread to parents and siblings so it’s a good idea to check everyone in the household.
Signs and Symptoms of Lice Bite
Lice need to feed on the blood of other organisms to survive. As such, you may see the symptoms of a bite before you see the lice themselves.
A louse bite will not transmit serious diseases, however, it will leave sores which may become prone to infection. Symptoms of a louse bite usually include itchiness, and bumpiness in the scalp. In some cases, movement may be felt within the scalp. Scabs and sores may also occur which prevent scratching and make itching even more frustrating.
In some cases a rash may occur beneath the hair, around the hairline or at the nape of the neck.
How to Get Rid of Lice
The good news is that there are lots of over the counter treatments for lice which have proven highly effective. In some cases, a prescription strength treatment may be required. Treatments are topical, meaning that they are applied directly to the scalp and hair. They often come in the form of shampoos, lotions and rinses.
You may also choose to combine these treatments with wet combing for added efficacy. This means going through the wet hair with a fine toothed comb, removing lice and their eggs.
Lice treatments may be pesticide or non -pesticide based. Some treatments like Dimethicone work not by poisoning lice but by coating them in a substance that inhibits their ability to feed.
After 9-10 days you should notice that lice either die or show signs that they are dying (such as moving sluggishly).
Do’s and Don’ts of Lice Removal
- -Check hair regularly (at least once a week)
- -Screen the whole family if a member of the household has lice
- -Only apply treatment when adult lice are spotted in the hair or scalp
- -Tell your child’s school and friends so that appropriate measures can be taken to prevent lice from spreading
- -Wash linens, towels and clothing on a hot setting (around 130 degrees Fahrenheit)
- -Overreact by throwing out perfectly good furniture or linens
- -Try to apply a treatment preemptively (before you see an adult louse). Preemptive treatments may damage or irritate the scalp
- -Use olive oil, mayonnaise, essential oils or other preventative home remedies as treatments
FAQ About Lice
Yes, but not for very long. Without the nourishment from a host’s blood, lice can only live for around 24 hours. As such, there’s no need to throw out cushions, rugs or sofa covers if you see signs of lice in the family.
You may have heard that head louse bites can cause infectious diseases, but this theory has long been debunked. There is, however, a risk of secondary infection from sores that are opened when scratching.
No. Fortunately, head lice cannot live on household pets.
There’s data to suggest that lice can survive for several hours under water and that they are not killed by the chlorine in swimming pools. However, it is highly unlikely that lice can be transmitted from one person to another via pool water. However, they can be spread through shared towels.
Any nits remaining on the scalp after 9 days of treatment will be dead and unable to hatch. However, you may still wish to remove them for aesthetic reasons.
Does my home need to be fumigated?
No. Furthermore, we absolutely do not recommend the use of insecticide sprays or fogs to treat head lice. They are not only ineffective, they can prove a much greater risk to your family’s health than the lice themselves.