Lice. It’s something that we all fear and just mentioning it can give us the urge to start scratching. For parents of school-aged children, head lice is a real concern and it’s something that everyone should become educated on as early detection is important in treating lice and preventing it from spreading to others. While it’s an uncomfortable topic, a good understanding gives you the information you need to recognize the symptoms and detect lice early on. Below, you’ll find a comprehensive guide to everything you need to know about lice detection.
What is Head Lice?
Head lice are tiny brownish grey insects that feed on human blood from the scalp. Lice infestations, called pediculosis capitis, can begin with as little as one louse. Lice lay eggs on the scalp, and after approximately 10 days, the eggs hatch. After hatching, the egg leaves an empty shell behind on the hair shaft near the scalp.
Lice eggs are about one-third the size of a sesame seed and they can be difficult to spot. When checking for lice, you may see adult lice, lice eggs, or the discarded egg cases. The empty egg cases are easier to see because they appear further down the strand. Once the eggs hatch, they begin to move around the head, especially at night when they are the most active.
How Do You Get Head Lice?
Lice are easily spread from one person to another, especially in children who are more likely to be exposed to lice at school or daycare. Lice are spread through direct, head to head contact with a person who has lice. The lice can move quickly as they crawl from one head to another.
Lice are also spread through hats, brushes, and hair combs, rugs, pillowcases, helmets, furniture, scarves, headphones, and even rugs. Children are more likely to share hats or crawl on rugs, making them more susceptible to a lice infestation. Slumber parties and sports activities also create an ideal setting for lice to spread from one child to another.
Who Can Get Head Lice?
Anyone! While children are more likely to become infested with lice, adults can get it too. Girls and women with long hair are prime candidates for lice, but men and boys can get lice too. In the United States alone, it’s estimated that more between 6 and 12 million children from ages 3 – 12 are infested with lice each year.
Lice dislike testosterone, so men are less likely to get lice, but it is still possible. Lice is less common in African Americans but this doesn’t mean that they can’t get it in certain situations.
What are the Symptoms of Head Lice?
How can you tell that you or your child has head lice? While they are extremely small and hard to spot, there are other tell-tale signs that let you know that lice may be present. Some of the main symptoms of head lice include:
Itching and Tingling
The most common sign of lice is itching, although it’s important to note that not everyone has this symptom. The itching is a result of a reaction to the lice’s saliva. Some people may experience an itchy scalp, which for others it feels more like a tingling sensation or the feeling of something moving on the head. It can take several weeks for itching symptoms to begin.
As lice are more active at night, this symptom is more prevalent during the evening and while sleeping. You may notice your child scratching their head as they sleep, which is an indicator that you should check for lice. Itching can continue even after the lice are removed from the hair.
Some people develop a red rash from lice but this can be hard to see because the hair covers it. Lice commonly feed at the back of the head, so you may be able to spot a rash near the nape of the neck or around the back of the ears. A head lice rash usually looks like a small patch of red colored bumps.
Difficulty Or Trouble Sleeping
You may notice that your child is more irritable and tired than usual, and this can be due to the itching that they experience at night. Some people also may have trouble focusing on tasks if they are distracted by itching or tingling.
Flakes In Hair
As the hair grows, the discarded egg case will move farther down the hair shaft, making them more easily noticed. Some people may mistake these flakes for dandruff or dry scalp, but they are not the same thing. You can easily tell the difference between dandruff and lice by gently shaking the flakes. Dandruff flakes will fall from the hair, while lice egg cases are sticky and difficult to remove. If the flakes that you see in your child’s hair are not easily removable, chances are that they have a lice infestation instead of dandruff.
What to Do If You Suspect Lice
If you or your child are experiencing any of the symptoms above, or if a family member or friend has lice, it’s important to check the scalp. School will often send notices home with children if there is an outbreak in the classroom and these should not be ignored. It’s important to check the scalp so that you can catch a lice infestation early on. Early detection of head lice makes treatment easier and will limit the chances of spreading it to others.
To check the hair for lice, use a fine-toothed comb to part the hair and look for the presence of insects, egg cases, or tiny black or brown dots. Adult lice move very quickly, so it’s more common to see empty egg cases on the hair shaft or tiny baby lice (called nits) on the scalp. They are very hard to remove and can’t simply be picked up with the fingers.
Parents should have their spouse or another adult check their head for lice if their children are affected.
Common Lice Myths and Misconceptions
Lice education is important because many people have misconceptions about this condition. Some of the most common lice myths are:
Lice jump from head to head
Lice are wingless insects that cannot fly or jump. However, they do move very quickly so it’s easy for them to spread from person to person, even if you don’t have prolonged head to head contact.
Only People with Poor Hygiene get lice
Many people feel ashamed or embarrassed about having lice because there is a misconception that lice infestations are caused by poor hygiene. However, this is untrue as lice can live on the head no matter how many times you shower or wash your hair. Having lice does not make you or your child “dirty” or mean that you need to bathe or wash your hair more frequently.
Your head has to feel itchy
For most people, an itchy scalp is the most common symptom, but there are others who may not feel an itching sensation at all. Some people are more sensitive to lice saliva while others are not bothered by it. If you notice any of the other symptoms of lice or know someone who is affected, it’s critical to do a lice check even if you or your child do not have an itchy head.
If you have lice you need to wash everything
It’s important to realize that lice can only live for about 24 hours off the human head. Hats, scarves, and bedding that has been used within a two day period should all be washed in hot, soapy water and dried on a high-temperature setting, but items that are in storage or have not been used do not need cleaning.
Only kids get lice
It’s possible for anyone to get lice, from infants to adults. While lice is commonly transmitted through children, adults can easily get it too, particularly when other members of the same household have lice.
Lice carry disease
While lice don’t spread disease or make you sick, they are an uncomfortable problem that gets worse the longer you leave it untreated. Parents should be more concerned about detecting lice early rather than worrying about potential illness or disease.
Head lice affects millions of people across the country each year and it is nothing to be ashamed of. If you or your child have head lice, it’s important to watch for the signs and symptoms described above so you can take action right away. Awareness and education about lice symptoms is a key part of keeping your family lice-free or detecting the problem right away.
While head lice is an uncomfortable condition, it’s not serious and it’s easily treatable at home. Thorough lice checks are the only way to detect an infestation, so it’s important to perform them on your child any time you suspect that they may have head lice.