Head lice, how to recognize and eliminate them effectively

Who I am
Catherine Le Nevez
@catherinelenevez
Author and references

Contents

  • 1 How to recognize head lice
  • 2 Spread of pediculosis
  • 3 How the contagion occurs 
  • 4 Lice Infestation Symptoms
  • 5 What to do against head lice
  • 6 Head lice and wet hair combing 
  • 7 Head lice: what else you need to know

They are the nightmare of almost all mothers of children who go to school: lice. How many of us have the memory of our mothers "armed" with very tight-toothed combs, passed "mercilessly" on our hair, well printed in our heads? A difficult experience to forget. But now that we too are mothers we can understand a bit how they lived it. Lice objectively make a little impression ...



Before understanding how to recognize and eradicate them effectively, let's clarify a concept. Or rather: let's breathe a cliché. Head lice are not synonymous with dirt. On the contrary, they love cleanliness. Therefore, it is not certain that they are taken from children who do not shampoo often or in places that are not exactly clean. In general, any community (kindergarten, school) can be at "risk", but not for lack of hygiene. 

How to recognize head lice

They are small whitish-gray insects. They are about the size of a sesame seed, 1-2 millimeters. Usually, they live on the hair and sting the scalp for nourishment, depositing a liquid that causes the classic itch. They love warm places: if they stay away from the warmth of the head they die. They reproduce through eggs which are called nits. These are stubbornly attached to the hair. We find them more frequently at the nape of the neck and behind the ears. 

Spread of pediculosis

Estimates say that 1 in 3 school-aged children get head lice. This happens because from 3 to 11 years old, when they interact with their mates, our children are very "physical", they touch each other a lot. The contagion is therefore very simple. Females are more affected than males because they have longer hair.



How the contagion happens 

Let's start with a certainty: the louse does not fly and does not jump. Therefore, it is impossible for the contagion to occur in these ways. Responsible is contact, both direct and indirect. In the first case, the hair touches. In the second, however, unwanted guests are passed on by exchanging combs, hats, towels, pillows, scarves and so on. So do you understand why at school it is enough for a child to have pediculosis (the scientific term for lice) to infect others as well?

Lice Infestation Symptoms

Itchy head is the first warning sign of a lice infestation. Then, by analyzing the hair and scalp, nits and insects will be found. The eggs are really tiny. They have an elongated shape, are slightly smaller than a pinhead and translucent, white or light brown in color. 

They should not be confused with dandruff. The nits are firmly attached to the hair thanks to a kind of "glue" secreted by the females when they lay their eggs. Dandruff, on the other hand, is easily removed with a comb. 

What to do against lice

A scrupulous treatment allows to solve the problem, even if it must be said that there is nothing that can prevent a new infestation. The preventive products are give no certainty about it. 

Let's see the practical advice that can be implemented:

  • apply a specific product recommended by the pediatrician to the hair; 
  • pay attention to the products used: some can be toxic, especially in small children, less than 2 years of age. They are in fact based on pesticide substances, which could harm health;
  • try to remove the nits attached to the hair: it can be done either manually or with a very narrow-toothed comb, carefully combing strand by strand. Do it after shampooing, with wet hair, starting from the root;
  • repeat the treatment after 8 days;
  • disinfect sheets, clothes, soft toys: wash them in hot water or dry them (especially hats) or keep them in the open air for 48 hours. As mentioned, if removed from the scalp the lice die;
  • scrupulously wash combs and brushes. Leave them in hot water for 10 minutes and / or wash them with shampoo;
  • avoid exchanging personal items: combs, scarves, hats, brushes, towels, etc. It also applies to objects used by children at school;
  • avoid piling up your clothes: at school, for example, the ideal would be to have personal lockers;
  • periodically check your child's hair, particularly if he is in school or scratching.

Head lice and wet hair combing 

The British call it “wet combing” and it is a useful method in case of repeated and frequent infestations. The goal is to try to eradicate lice without resorting to products on the market, which could be too aggressive. 



How "wet combing" works:


  • wash your hair normally with shampoo and apply a lot of conditioner;
  • while the hair is wet, comb it from the root with a fine-toothed comb: the teeth must enter the root every time;
  • clean the comb from lice with a piece of paper;
  • wet lice have a hard time escaping and the conditioner makes the hair slippery: the nits hold their grip with difficulty. It is therefore easier to eliminate them;
  • repeat this operation every 3-4 days for 3 weeks: in this way, any louse born from the eggs is removed before it can reproduce.

Head lice: what else you need to know

  • An infected child can infect an entire class: if you discover head lice in your child, treat them right away.
  • Immediately notify teachers and parents of other children: there is nothing to be ashamed of.
  • Check your children's hair regularly. 
  • If your child has lice, check other family members, including adults, closely. If necessary, carry out the treatment. 
  • Even older people may have lice without knowing it and pass them on to babies.
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