How To Get Rid Of Head Lice: Causes And Treatment

How To Get Rid Of Head Lice: Causes And Treatment

Remember as a kid, when you would come home scratching your head from school and the first thing your mom or grandmother would do was check for head lice? Back then, it was fine to get head lice every now and then but as an adult, if you’re noticing head lice often then that’s a matter of concern. Don’t get all panicky, you can simply take notes from here. This blog will help you understand why head lice show up on the scalp in the first place and ways to effectively get rid of them before they cause an infection. 

What Are Head Lice? 

Head lice are annoying, creepy crawlies that walk and live on the scalp. They are about the size of a strawberry seed. These parasites feed on blood. Now some of you might get the notion that having these lice is a sign of poor hygiene. Well, it could be a yes and no kinda situation. It’s true that if you don’t practice basic hygiene of shampooing and washing your scalp regularly, that dirt and lice could be attracted to it but on the other hand, head lice don’t really care if the human is hygienic or dirty. They simply need human blood to feed on. 

How Do Head Lice Spread? 

You might not have them regularly but might often acquire these head lice through random people. This is because these insects jump and crawl from one person to another by either direct contact or using the comb, brush, towel, or cap of a person with existing head lice. So avoid sharing such items. When head lice bite in order to feed on human blood, their bites cause a certain scalp irritation that leaves the scalp feeling itchy. With the urge to constantly itch the scalp, comes scars and sores. A study conducted mentions that ideally, the activity of these head lice is more during the night. This increases the itching and makes it difficult to fall asleep.

Now, an important thing to remember is that they don’t go as easily as they come. Once these head lice like the new environment they are in with regular food (human blood), they make themselves feel at home and settle down there. In other words, they even start laying eggs on the hair shafts which are called nits. 

How To Identify Head Lice? 

Lice need a human host to survive, so 98% of they’ll be present on the scalp either hung onto a hair shaft or migrating from one partition to another. These are usually black to greyish in color. Ideally, they are pretty tough to spot because they are small and tend to camouflage. But the biggest red flags are that they run against the light and run like their lives depend on it. Nits (lice eggs) on the other hand are very easy to spot because they are stationary, unlike mini Usain Bolt a.k.a head lice. These are always present near the scalp and are either empty inside or just dead already. Nits will always be glowing white or yellowish-brown in color. The best places to spot these nits are at the back of the ears. 

How To Get Rid Of Head Lice?

It gets a little bit easy if you’re carrying out a head lice treatment for someone else but when it comes to self-treatment, using the right head lice medicine or head lice shampoo is ideal. 

  • Fine tooth - Combing Technique: Since head lice and nits are attached to the hair follicles and getting rid of them can be tough. The first basic thing to do if you have head lice is to purchase the specific head lice comb. Detangle your hair first to remove any kind of knots. Lay a cloth underneath the hair (where you will be combing). Make sure this cloth is a brighter or contrasting color compared to the lice. Next, gently run down the fine-toothed comb from the crown of the scalp to the tips. Do this repeatedly over the entire head. Here is where you might catch most of these crawlers either on the comb or on the cloth. Make sure you kill these guys before they crawl back. Remember to always wash the comb and soak it in hot water for 10 mins to sterilize it.
  • Medicated Head Lice Shampoo: Many OTC medications like shampoos, creams, and lotions are available specifically for situations like this. These head lice medicines contain active ingredients like pyrethrin or permethrin that kill lice and nits. These ingredients are FDA approved for head lice treatment and are very safe to use. They effectively kill the lice and newly hatched head lice even a few days post-treatment. Just remember to use the medicated shampoo, lotion, or cream as per directions by leaving it for some time on the scalp and allowing the ingredients to be absorbed into the scalp. Please note that this cannot be done once and expect the head lice to disappear. It is a treatment that might need to be followed repeatedly for a few weeks. 
  • “Superhead Lice”: In some rare cases, head lice tend to be resistant to these over-the-counter medications as per Darwin's theory of evolution and have adapted to these medicated ingredients. In such cases, OTC medications fail and might need a stronger approach. You will need a prescription to make use of these lotions or tablets. These include Spinosad, Malathion, and Ivermectin. 

How To Get Rid Of Head Lice With Home Remedies?

Research suggests that home remedies are not a reliable way of getting rid of head lice since they are temporary and may or may not work. However, if you wish to try out natural ways of treating head lice before opting for full-fledged medicated treatments, then, by all means, go ahead and follow the below details. 

  • Use Of Essential Oils: Natural oils such as tea tree oil, anise oil, or even ylang ylang, have been shown to kill head lice by depriving them of oxygen. But the effectiveness still remains uncertain. Alternatively, you could develop skin allergies from these. 
  • Use Of Smothering Agents: Mayonnaise, olive oil, and petroleum jelly are all greasy substances which when applied and then covered by maybe using a shower cap overnight, suck out all the air, making it difficult for the head lice to stay alive but the effectiveness of this treatment is not proved. 

How To Prevent Head Lice From Infecting Others?

Although all these different ways of treating head lice sound promising, you must remember that once the lice go away, there is a high possibility that they might turn back up even a few days post-treatment. This is why it is important to prevent the re-spread or even spreading of head lice in general. 

  • Seal The Clothes In A Plastic Bag: If you can't get items like clothes, comb, towels, and more to be instantly washed, the best thing would be to seal them in airtight plastic bags until they can be directly put to wash. This will help prevent the head lice from spreading or coming back onto the scalp.
  • Vacuum The Environment From Time To Time: In order to avoid active head lice or nits from fallen hair strands traveling around the house, make sure to vacuum rugs, sofas, bedsheets, old furniture, and as many items as possible.  
  • Sterilize As Many Hair Care Items As Possible: Constantly keep washing combs, scrunchies, towels, hair accessories, and more with hot water, and if possible dry with high temperatures too (maybe use a dryer). Apart from hair care items, try and regularly sterilize bedsheets, soft toys, and more till the lice issue is completely resolved. 
  • Avoid Mix-Matching Hair Care Products With Infested People: The biggest way to prevent head lice from transferring or migrating from one head to another is to avoid the use of combs, brushes, towels, shower caps, normal caps, and more. Most importantly, is to avoid close contact with the infected person. Avoid very close contact or head-to-head contact with strangers in public transport.  

Takeaway: 

Head lice are common and there’s nothing to be embarrassed off provided you are following the right treatment for it and not neglecting it. Please note, If one member of the family is infested with head lice, it is very likely that all the individuals in the same house might be invaded with head lice. So instead of panicking simply follow the basic treatment processes mentioned in the blog. All in all, it’s a lovely experience once in a while. 

FAQs 

Q1 - Can Head Lice Live In Men's Hair?

Yes, it’s a myth that just because girls have long hair, only they notice head lice. It’s very likely for men to acquire head lice accompanied by severe itching and scratching. As long as the parasite has a host to feed on, they are not affected by the gender of the person. 

Q2 - How Do Boys Get Lice?

As mentioned earlier, head lice spread through either direct contact with the infected person or by simply sharing objects. School/ College, Football practices, and traveling in public transport are all easy ways that lice can enter the scalp.

Q3 - What Are The 4 Symptoms Of Head Lice?

The 4 symptoms of head lice include constant itching due to the feeling of something moving on the scalp, scratching, scalp redness from all the scratching, and lack of sleep from the night activity of the head lice. 

Q4 - Why Do Adults Get Lice?

Crowded areas are a major source of head lice. Direct contact is seen quite often among infested vs non infested individuals. 

References:

https://www.cdc.gov/parasites/lice/head/treatment.html#:~:text=Permethrin%20lotion%2C%201%25%3B&text=Permethrin%20lotion%201%25%20is%20approved,for%20several%20days%20after%20treatment.

https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/325844#home-remedies

https://www.cdc.gov/parasites/resources/pdf/HeadLiceFlyer.pdf

https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/diseases/10824-head-lice

https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/health/treatment-tests-and-therapies/no-panic-guide-to-head-lice-treatment

https://www.webmd.com/skin-problems-and-treatments/lice-treatment

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Zahra Lokhandwala

Hair Coach

Zahra is the hair coach-in-chief at Traya. She works closely with the doctors to monitor all cases. She is a fitness freak and has not touched sugar in years!

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