Head Lice: just a Nuisance or Something more Dangerous?

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Head lice (plural of head louse) is one of the most common issues in households with school-aged children. They are quite annoying, hard to treat, and very contagious. Most of the time they only cause mild irritation and itchiness of the scalp.

When you discover head lice, you should act immediately to prevent them from spreading to everyone else in your family. There are several different methods for treating them including over the counter, home remedies and prescription treatments.

Symptoms and Diagnosis

Lice feed off of the human scalp, most are sensitive to their saliva which causes an itching, tingling, or tickling sensation. Some may complain that it feels like something is crawling all over their head.

Scratching and complaints of an itchy scalp are the most common symptoms of head lice. In addition, you may find small red bumps, scratch marks or sores on the persons’ head.

Upon inspection of the person’s head, you may not see lice. Instead, you will see lice eggs (nits). They look somewhat like dandruff but are small, round and either white, brown, tan or yellow in color. They will not detach when hair is shaken or brushed. They can usually be easily viewed on the scalp of a person with dark hair. To inspect the scalp of someone with light colored hair you will need a bright light and possibly a magnifying glass.

In extreme cases, excessive scratching can lead to a bacterial infection of the scalp. If you are dealing with an extreme case of head lice that you cannot get rid of, or there are signs of infection, you should call us to schedule an appointment immediately. The dermatologist Dr. Rapaport can give a proper diagnosis, advice on things you can do at home, and prescribe any necessary medications.

Treatment

In most cases, head lice treatment consists of a combination of things. In the event that you discover head lice or a diagnosis from a doctor you will need to do the following things to treat it thoroughly.

  • Seal up anything that can’t be put in the dryer for at least 20 minutes in a bag and put them in a storage shed or another area for at least two weeks
  • Spray all bedding (including pet bedding) and stuffed furniture with head lice spray. This can usually be found in most pharmacies with other head lice treatments.
  • Wash any clothing and bed linens in hot water and dry in a tumble dryer for at least 20 minutes.
  • Place pillows in the dryer for at least 20 minutes on high heat
  • Use head lice medication on the person’s scalp, after treatment time, is up, use a lice comb to help remove bugs and nits.
  • Re-check the persons head every two to three days and use a lice comb.
  • If the head lice medication does not kill eggs, you will have to re-treat your home and any infested persons in six to nine days when new eggs are likely to hatch.
  • Check everyone else’s head who lives in the household and treat if necessary.
  • Clean and Soak combs and brushes in very hot water (at least 130 F) for at least ten minutes
  • Vacuum your house thoroughly

It is important that you treat all areas of your house because head lice travel rather quickly and can hitch a ride on pant legs, socks and shoes.

Prevention

If you have school aged children or work in this type of setting, it can difficult to completely avoid it. However, there are a few steps you can take to lessen you or your child’s chances of becoming infested.

  • If you have long hair, keep it pulled up
  • Do not share hair brushes, combs, or other accessories
  • Avoid head to head contact when working or playing closely with others
  • Do not share hats, scarves or bedding
  • Do not lie or sit in areas that have recently been used by infested people
  • Some say that coconut scented shampoos can repel head lice, but there is no scientific evidence to support this claim.

Conclusion

Although head lice are not generally dangerous, they can be quite annoying and difficult to get rid of. It is important to properly treat your home and anyone who is infested to prevent further issues and to keep it from spreading. If head lice are persistent you should make an appointment with a dermatologist, especially if you suspect an infection is present.


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