Head Lice Basics

Find vital information on head lice, how to diagnose and remove lice as well as the the best medicine to treat head louse. See natural, safe lice remedies and how to prevent infestation. Join in with comments and views on everything lice.

Few words can strike terror into the heart of a parent quite like 'Your child has got lice on her head'.

That's largely because these creatures are known to be resilient and hard to eliminate.

If you're facing your first lice issue then you're probably filled with questions like "what are lice?" "how do you know if you have lice?" "what colour are head lice?" and more importantly "how do I get rid of them?", "what is the best medicine to treat head lice?", etc. 

Before you dive into the murky waters of lice treatments, understanding some basic hair lice information can help you learn what you're dealing with. When you know what you're up against, your job will be much easier.

First, realize that there are a few basic types of lice. There are hair lice, body lice, and pubic lice. We would talk a bit more about them in the next section.  Despite what most people believe, they aren't a sign of poor hygiene or unclean living conditions. They spread through nothing more than close contact with others who have contracted them.

Lice At A Glance

Head lice picture

There are basically three types of lice. They are head lice, body lice and pubic lice. Public lice are also called crab lice, because they do look lice crabs.

The head and body lice belongs to the same species or family called Pediculus humanus, while the pubic lice found in bikini and genital areas belong to a diffrent family called Phthirus pubis.

The most common form of lice that plagues humans is the headlice. They cause much irritation after staying on th ehuman scalp or skin for some time. But what exactly are they?

Simply put, head or hair lice – are tiny insects that live on the skin of your head. They are about 1 to 4 millimeter long and are brownish in colour. They can also be found on the eyelashes and the eyebrow. They feed on blood they suck from your skin or scalp.

Lice can only survive on humans - they die within two days if they lost contact with human hair or scalp. They can last up to 30 days on humans before they die.

Pets - cats or dogs or indeed any other pet or animal does not habour head lice and cannot transmit lice to humans.

A female louse lays eggs called nits. They are whitish yellow stuff that looks like dandruff and stick stubbornly to hair shaft.

Here are ten interesting facts on head lice worth knowing:

  1. They are a six legged insect, called Pediculus humanus capitis, approximately a pin head size or the size of a sesame seed, light brown to grayish in colour. They have claws at the end of their legs
  2. They feed on human blood, by biting into the scalp skin, causing irritation, but not pain
  3. Head or body lice has not been shown to cause any disease or transmit any disease
  4. A person with a lice infestation will have an average of 30 lice on his or her head, though as many as 2700 lice has been found on the scalp of a child with heavy infestation
  5. Despite the fact that they feed an average of five times a day on blood, the quantity of blood they could feed on from any individual is usually very very insignificant (about 10,000th part of 1mL)
  6. The most significant problem infestation with lice cause is itching of the head, especially towards the back of the head
  7. Anyone can contact head louse, whether you have good state of hygiene or not
  8. You do not have head lice, unless you find a live, moving louse. Nits are empty cases of louse eggs. They do not cause any disease either
  9. The most effective treatment for lice is the use of lice medications called pediculicides or head louse insecticides, though many other natural lice treatment preparations that are effective exists. The use of wet louse combing is another very effective non-chemical way of getting rid of lice
  10. Infestation with lice should not be a reason to send kids away from school (at least in the United Kingdom), though many children with this harmless infestation are sent home from many North American Schools.

About 7 to 15 million persons are infested with hair lice every year in the USA alone, with most of this occurring at age 6 to 8. A survey done in the UK shows that as many as 1 in 5 children in many English schools are infested with head lice. The itching that most people associate with lice is due to the feeding that the insect does regularly. Small reddish bumps or sores may also appear as a result of irritation and scratching of the site of lice bite, with subsequent bacteria infection in some cases.

It's also good to understand the life cycle of a head louse if you're asking yourself the question "what is lice?" This can help you understand how they live – and how they die. A human head louse can survive for as many as thirty days. Their eggs, also called 'nits', can survive for up to two weeks and are often far more difficult to eliminate than the actual lice. Hair lice feed between one and eight times per day by using a sharp appendage resembling a microscopic needle. Contrary to some rumors, lice can't burrow beneath your skin and will be visible through careful examination.

A head louse is roughly the size of a sesame seed as stated above, and it's best that you check for them under bright lights while wearing gloves, or use a lice comb to fish them out through wet combing.

Nits appear as tiny white specks attached to individual hair follicles and are difficult to remove in most cases. Again, the use of lice comb helps to strain these sticky eggs of empty egg shell from our hair follicles.

These are just some basic lice facts, covering only the insect themselves. Your next step should be to gain a solid understanding of how to eliminate them and how to prevent them from returning in the future. It isn't the nightmare you may be expecting.

How To Diagnose Lice

One of these two things should alert you to the possibility of lice in the head - itchy scalp or swollen glands at the back of the head.

If you see a life head louse in the head, it certainly confirms the diagnosis of lice.

Even though lice is so common, many times it is mis-diagnosed as impetigo of the scalp.

Have A Hair Lice Story or Query? Share It!

Are you or your loved one currently having problems with hairlice? Do you have a hair lice story, or just a query? Share it!

Also get responses from others who might have similar experience as yours or even from a lice expert here. Let's hear your story now. Just type into the box below. You can also upload pictures if you want to.

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  • Goodman DM,Burke AE,Livingston EH. JAMA patient page. Head lice. JAMA : the journal of the American Medical Association, 12 June 2013, vol./is. 309/22(2398), 1538-3598
  • US National Library of Medicine Web page: http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/000840.htm (Accessed 7th March 2014)
  • Parison JC,Speare R,Canyon DV. Head lice: the feelings people have. International journal of dermatology, February 2013, vol./is. 52/2(169-71), 1365-4632

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