Spotting Head Lice
The only way to confirm your lice suspicions is by a thorough examination of the hair. Making head lice exams a part of your regular routine will allow you to identify the problem at its onset and thus prevent head lice from taking over your family, your home and your life. To be on the safe side, let our professionals check for you.
Signs & Symptoms
Although the feeding bite of the louse is painless, its saliva can cause an allergic reaction in many people. There can be red marks and itching at the site of the bite. Reaction severity depends on one’s sensitivity and number of prior exposures. Initial infestation may produce no signs or symptoms for 4-6 weeks. Subsequent infestations may cause itching within 24-48 hours. Thus, first-time infestations are often asymptomatic, and severe itching usually indicates an infestation that has been present for several weeks. 50% of the population, however, are asymptomatic and never itch. This may account for the high rate of re-infestation among individuals who appear to be lice-free.
Intense itching at the site of the bite compels a person to scratch, often breaking the skin. The open scratches, in turn, create an entryway for germs and lice feces which may lead to secondary infections and swollen glands in the neck.
Secondary infections are far worse than the lice themselves and often lead to more serious problems. Other lice symptoms include:
- Rash at the nape of the neck
- Swollen glands
- Low-grade fever
- Bags under the eyes
- Inability to sleep because of the nocturnal characteristic of lice
- Anemia in severe cases
With a large number of lice bites, the infested individual may be feverish and feel tired and irritable due to lack of sleep, hence the term “feeling lousy.” Chronic scalp infections are not uncommon in individuals with active head lice infestations, especially in tropical climates or when daily hygiene is difficult to maintain.
A Lousy Night’s Sleep…
Ever wonder where the term, “a lousy night’s sleep” comes from? Lice are nocturnal creatures. They kick it into high gear and are very active precisely at the time you want to get those oh-so-very-important Zzzzzz’s. They are so active that it is difficult to get into or maintain that deep sleep which strengthens the immune system. So what’s the harm in not treating a lice infestation? Many “lousy night’s sleeps” and a weakened immune system which can lead to a whole host of other problems.
Nits, Nymphs & Lice
- Appearance: Head lice are tiny six-legged parasites that feed on human blood several times a day. Each leg has a claw, enabling the lice to grasp onto a hair shaft. They are like chameleons and have the ability to adapt to many different hair colors varying from grayish white to reddish brown.
- Where They Live: Head lice can be found most commonly on the head, but also on eyebrows, eyelashes, and in beards/mustaches of humans. They do not live on pets and are not known to spread disease.
- Nits: The female louse lays her eggs (called nits) by cementing them to the base of the hair shaft usually about a ¼” from the scalp (especially in colder climates, and possibly further away from the scalp in warmer climates). The female will produce approximately 200 eggs in her lifetime. Nits are small (about the size of a knot in a piece of thread), oval and can be hard to see. Nits generally hatch in 7 to 10 days.
- Nymphs: A newborn louse is called a nymph. Nymphs look like small adult lice, feed on human blood regularly but cannot reproduce. This “pre-pubescent” stage lasts for 9-12 days.
- Adults: Nymphs mature into reproducing adult lice which are about the size of a sesame seed, females being larger than males. Adults live for approximately 30 days if their human blood supply remains constant. Without human blood, the adult louse will rarely survive more than 24 hours.
- Super Lice: Scientists from Southern Illinois University have recently discovered that 104 of the 109 lice populations that were tested in the US, are resistant to pyrethroids – a common pesticide found in drugstore lice shampoos and treatments (source: The Telegraph). These “super lice” are prevalent in most US states today, and have been mutating for years from overuse and misuse of pesticide treatments.
- Amazing Critters!: Lice have the ability to shut down their nervous system and can remain submersed and unharmed, for up to two hours. During laboratory testing, head lice were found to play dead, fooling even the researchers conducting the experiments; only to get up and run again if they were submersed for less than two hours. These critters are actually amazing!
- Not Prejudicial: Lice are not prejudicial. A louse’s only concern is for its own survival. It needs to feed regularly and is always looking for the most convenient means of doing so. Shampooing daily does nothing to prevent head lice since nits are cemented to the hair and, the louse’s crab-like claws allow the critter to attach itself to your hair and hang on for dear life!
How To Get Lice
HEAD TO HEAD CONTACT is by far (> 98%), the primary way to get the dreaded critters. Let’s face it, humans will be humans! Heads are going to touch no matter how old you may be. Whether it’s on the playground, in class, hugging your family, or taking that oh so important group selfie, daily life consists of many opportunities for unwelcome house guests to crawl into your hair.
What’s in a good lice comb? This ancient Egyptian lice comb (c. 500-1000 A.D.) apparently didn’t make the grade. In the time of Cleopatra for example, people would shave their heads to prevent head lice. Don’t despair and don’t shave your head! Book an online appointment today.
Sources: Lice Solutions Resource Network, Photo: LA County Museum of Art/Public Domain