CONDITIONS A-Z

Head Lice

Head lice (Pediculus capitis) affects only humans, and cannot be passed on to, or caught from animals. Infestation with head lice is also known as pediculosis.

Head Lice Overview

Head Lice are tiny, almost transparent, wingless insects that infest the scalp, where they suck blood and cause irritation and itching. Their eggs, known as nits, are laid close to the scalp and can be seen as tiny white specks attached to the hair shaft. Infestation of head lice are common in school children, especially girls who have long hair. Treatments include the use of products containing insecticides, wet combing with conditioner and applying neem, turmeric and other herbal remedies to the scalp.

Head Lice Symptoms

  • Intense itching of the scalp

  • Small white specks (nits) at the base of the hair shaft near the scalp.

  • The presence of the lice themselves - tiny almost transplant wingless insects.

  • Nits stuck to the hairs as they grow out

  • Pillows being dirtier due to louse droppings

Head Lice Causes

Head Lice (pediculus capitis) are adapted to live on the scalp and neck hairs of humans. Children are more  commonly infested than adults and the lice are usually transmitted by close head-to-head contact and by sharing items, such as hair accessories, hats and combs. Their presence on your child's head is not an indication of poor hygiene.

Adult head lice live by sucking blood from the scalp and cannot live for more than a day or two without feeding. The females can lay about six eggs a day and can lay about 100 eggs in total. The females has to be inseminated by a male for the eggs to hatch. In general, an infested scalp may have ten or so adults, but hundreds of eggs that are either hatched, dead or viable.

Head Lice Treatments

Conventional Treatments

  • Insecticide shampoos. A number of over the counter shampoos containing insecticides, such as malathion and permethrin, are effective treatments though there may be some skin irritation. Head lice can become resistant to some chemicals that are used too much in certain areas. As a result treatments recommended may vary in different areas, depending on the resistance patterns. You usually need to apply the product twice, within a week between treatments. A third shampoo a week later should make sure. Always follow the instructions carefully.

  • Wet Combing: If you want to avoid using chemicals, thoroughly wet your child's hair and scalp, then use a fine tooth comb to remove the head lice and nits. Sometimes it can be helpful to apply some conditioner to the wet hair before combing painstakingly for up to half an hour. Wipe the comb on a piece of tissue after every stroke. Rinse the hair thoroughly and make sure you dispose of the tissue. Repeat the combing every two to three days for about two weeks.

Western Herbal Medicine

There are many traditional approaches to treating head lice, some are effective. Apply one of the following remedies to child's wet hair, then comb it through. A water-based remedy can be left in, but an oil based remedy should  be left out. The eggs are not destroyed by the treatments so the application needs to be repeated regularly for two to three weeks, by which time all the eggs would have hatched and the newly emerged head lice can be killed.

  • Neem: (Azadirichta indica) and oriental tree found in much of tropical Asia, is a safe and generally effective insecticide, anti-malarial and insect repellent herb. It is strongly bitter and its main active constituents (liminoids) are toxic to many parasites, including lice. An infusion made from the leaf or the seed oil are the most commonly used.

  • Turmeric: (Curcuma Longa) powder or decoction is commonly mixed with neem to treat head lice in India. An Indian study involving 814 people with head lice found the combination 98% effective – though treatment also included boiling clothing and bedding in order to reduce the chance of reinjection

  • Quasia: (Picrasma spp.) is a specific herbal treatment for head lice in many parts of the world.

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