What are the most effective measures against head lice?
Head lice is never a pleasant experience. It’s stressful, itchy, and it often seems like there’s no end in sight when trying to remove head lice. One of the reasons why head lice often go unchecked is because it’s often difficult to know how to treat lice or what causes lice to begin. If you cannot spot head lice symptoms early on, the problem worsens and causes a lot of discomfort and annoyance. Painfully itchy and unpleasant, head lice symptoms tend to be persistent and strong.
However, the silver lining to this problem is that there are effective head lice remedies and head lice products that can help alleviate the problem. If you’re not sure how to treat head lice or where head lice come from, we’re here to help. We’ll go through some quick head lice facts, talk about some early signs of head lice, preventative measures you can take to reduce the chances of head lice, and how to treat head lice effectively.
What is head lice?
Head lice are tiny, wingless, blood-sucking insects. They live in the hair on your head and feed off the blood from your scalp. A single adult, also known as a louse is roughly the size of a sesame seed. A nit (louse egg) is about the size of a small flake of dandruff.
What does head lice look like?
One of the problems with spotting head lice early on is not knowing what head lice look like or how to check for it. Even if you’re able to spot the problem in time, there are a lot of myths and misconceptions around head lice and lice eggs:
- Lice are parasitic insects that live on a human’s head, eyebrows, and eyelashes.
- Lice feed on human blood several times a day, choosing to stay near the scalp.
- Lice do not spread other diseases, but they are incredibly contagious.
- Lice come in three forms: the egg (or nit), nymph, and adult.
- Lice can affect anyone, but they are most commonly found among pre-school and elementary age children.
- Lice can only crawl – they cannot hop or fly.
- Lice can only survive 1-2 days once they are removed from the scalp, which is their primary nourishment source.
What causes head lice to begin?
As we mentioned earlier, head lice are incredibly contagious. The main reason for what causes head lice to begin is usually due to direct contact. As children play and attend school, head lice continue to spread due to head-to-head contact and close contact with someone else who has head lice.
Spotting the signs of head lice is mainly about vigilance and monitoring. Quick hair spot checks can help in preventing head lice and catching head lice eggs before they hatch.
Although many believe that clothes and fabric need to be dry cleaned or deep cleaned due to lice, this is unnecessary. Head lice only spread through close contact with someone whose hair is infested with lice. Head lice are not commonly spread by contact with clothing and personal items, but it is essential to exercise caution nonetheless. If someone you know has head lice, refrain from sharing towels, clothes, and hats with them.
Early ways to treat head lice
There are many ways to treat head lice currently available on the market, but some are more effective than others. However, if you’re not sure how head lice begin and would like to have some preventative measures for head lice in place, here are some key ways to deal with head lice:
- Limit head-to-head contact. This is the most simple yet effective measure to deal with lice proactively. If head lice have already been identified, it is still important to limit head-to-head contact to ensure it does not spread further.
- Avoid sharing personal belongings. While the risk of head lice spreading through clothing is low, there is still a risk of spread with combs, hairbrushes, or towels. This is also both a preventative measure against head lice and a practical measure when dealing with a family member’s head lice.
- Avoid shared spaces: This is particularly important for common areas where clothing or hats are hung on common hooks or lockers. Again, while the risk is low, it is not entirely eliminated, so these precautions are essential.
Head lice symptoms and how to check for head lice
There are some tell-tale signs of head lice. If you are not sure how to check for head lice, head lice images, and head lice photos can help you identify head lice. Some common head lice symptoms include:
- Intense itching on the scalp
- A tickling feels when hair moves
- Lice eggs or nits on hair shafts
- Lice on scalp
- Sores on scalp, neck, and shoulders
If you are not sure how to check for head lice, you can simply check your child’s hair in a well-lit area of your house and use a magnifying glass if needed. You should be looking for head lice and nits on the hair shaft. Lice eggs are usually small and shaped like a sesame seed and almost glued to the hair shaft.
If you identify head lice, there’s no reason to worry, but you need to take swift action. Separate any other household members that could’ve been in close contact with the head lice until the infestation is dealt with. Treat all affected house members at the same time to prevent any recurring spread of head lice.
Products to treat head lice
Many head lice products are available, including electric lice removal, non-prescription creams, and shampoos. However, bear in mind that not all lice treatments are created equally, and some are more effective than others. While lice shampoos are available, lice have become resistant to lice shampoos’ chemicals, making them less effective. Generally, you should be looking for natural treatments to manage head lice symptoms and obliterate lice. Prescription measures are available if needed.
For maximum success, it’s vital to use head lice products that have proven success rates and do not require retreatment. Not all chemicals are effective against lice, so it’s crucial to evaluate both prescription and non-prescription head lice remedies and see which one would work best for you. Head lice products should eliminate both the lice and lice eggs to prevent any chances of further spread. While many products can kill live lice, there are not as many that can remove head lice eggs and make them a less useful measure against head lice.
There are some tell-tale signs of head lice. If you are not sure how to check for head lice, head lice images, and head lice photos can help you identify head lice.
There are a variety of over-the-counter treatments available that are effective head lice remedies. Generally, non-prescription treatment can include electric lice removal, hair lice products such as shampoos, conditioners, or manual head lice removal.
Lice medicine, or pediculicide, can be applied to hair and left in for a period of time before being washed out. It’s recommended to abstain from washing hair for at least 1-2 days after the lice medicine is removed for maximum effectiveness.
After applying the head lice product, you will have to periodically check hair (around 8-12 hours later) to see if the lice and head lice eggs persist. Head lice products such as shampoos do not work as fast as other lice removal methods, such as electric lice treatment, so don’t worry if the problem is not dealt with right away.
You can then use a fine-toothed nit comb to remove dead and alive head lice out of the hair as a final step. Use the nit comb for a few more days after to ensure complete removal of head lice.
However, if there are still no dead lice after about 8-12 hours of treatment, the shampoo may not be effective, and you will have to try another method to remove head lice. Retreatment may be needed to remove surviving hatched lice to prevent them from laying new eggs.
Electric lice removal is an effective non-prescription head lice product that can help manage head lice symptoms and eliminate head lice. Using natural ingredients, you’ll apply a plant-based formula with proven ingredients such as rosemary oil to the hair. You’ll then connect a capsule to the electric lice removal device and cap and wait for 10 minutes for head lice and head lice egg removal.
There are some prescription treatments available for head lice. Generally, you should only need one course to remove head lice, but there are cases when these medications are not sufficient. Work with your healthcare provider on prescription treatments and which one is the best for affected family members. If head lice persist after a course of treatment with prescription medicine, you can speak to your doctor about trying a different treatment.
The other point to bear in mind is that the availability of prescription treatment ranges from country to country. Not all of the medications discussed below might be available depending on where you live, but it’s worth trying to look for them if you decide to go down the prescription route.
Prescription head lice products include:
- Benzyl alcohol lotion (5% percent strength):
Aromatic alcohol, benzyl alcohol, is considered safe and effective for head lice removal. Bear in mind that while it can kill lice, this prescription will not kill head lice eggs. The prescription will be needed again after a week to kill any lice hatched since the first treatment.
- Ivermectin lotion (0.5% strength)
While Ivermectin lotion is also unable to kill head lice eggs or nits, it still has its strengths. It’s able to kill lice and nymphs (i.e., newly hatched lice), but it cannot kill nits. It is applied to dry hair, and further nit combing isn’t needed, so it is easier to apply. However, Ivermectin lotion cannot be used as a treatment if it is ineffective the first time. You will have to explore alternative head lice products in that case, which can be frustrating.
- Malathion lotion (0.5% strength)
Malathion lotion, like other prescription products, is mainly useful for killing live lice. However, unlike some of the head lice prescription products mentioned, it can also partially kill head lice eggs. It can be used for treatment up to 9 days after if that point has not killed live lice.
- Spinosad (0.9% topical suspension)
Spinosad is derived from soil bacteria, and it can kill live lice and head lice eggs. Generally, there is no retreatment needed with Spinosad, nor is there nit combing needed. Retreatment is only needed if crawling lice are seen up to a week after the first treatment.
While these are all first-line treatments for head lice, some shampoos can be used if these provide to be ineffective, such as Lindane shampoo. However, it is not as effective and, therefore, not recommended as the primary treatment for head lice and head lice symptoms.
When it comes to identifying signs of head lice, it’s important to remember you may not see them immediately and you just have to keep a constant eye out for them. Head lice symptoms such as itching can take up to 6 weeks before you can spot them, so staying vigilant is critical. If you know someone with head lice, avoid touching their furniture, beds, clothing, and towels to limit your risk.
Generally, schools will notify you about head lice infestations early on, so preventative measures such as looking for head lice eggs on the scalp and clothing can help mitigate the impact. Explain to children what lice are and how to avoid them to help reduce head lice chances. Also, remind them not to have head-to-head contact with other children and not share items that touch the head and ears. If you are not sure how to check for head lice or what head lice look like, you can find head lice images online for reference.
What’s crucial to remember is that treatments such as shampoos are not 100% effective, so it’s essential to exercise caution when using them. Head lice have increasingly become resistant to the chemicals, making them a riskier choice comparatively.
These treatments cannot always manage all head lice symptoms and tend to kill the head lice themselves — not the head lice eggs. This is an important distinction, as it means that if the eggs can survive, there will be another infestation. If you’re hesitant about using these products, consider using natural alternatives or head lice remedies such as an electric lice comb or electric head lice removal that are both safe and effective.
Jennifer Andreoli is a New York Times bestselling author. She was born and raised in the Bronx and was a bookseller before shifting to children’s publishing and copywriting. She’s worked at a literary development company and a creative writing website for teens and as a book reviewer of children’s and young adult novels. She loves long walks on the beach and traveling to exotic locales and lives in Los Angeles. When she isn’t reading or writing great stories, she’s probably singing or watching racy shows on Netflix.