Head Lice

November 12, 2012

Head Lice

Head lice are small, wingless insects that live, breed and feed on the human scalp. Although they do not transmit any disease, they can move head to head without discrimination, and cause extreme discomfort.

About the Insect

The head lice cannot fly or jump. They can, however, crawl, and the female louse can lay three to eight eggs or nits per day within a 1.5 cm area of the hair. The eggs resemble dandruff, but cannot be brushed off. You may get the lice upon direct contact with the head of a person who has the lice. Children usually get them from friends at school or park, and spread them to the members of their family. Treating the head of the affected individual can prevent the spread of the insects. The linens may also require special washing as nits and lice may spread through them. Use water that is hotter than 60oCelsius, or put the clothes in the hot setting of the dryer for at least 10 minutes to kill the head lice on the linen.

Symptoms and Diagnosis

About half of the people who have head lice never scratch their head. Many people experience persistent itching even after they get rid of the insects from their hair completely. Hence, itching is not a reliable sign.

It is not possible to spot and observe the head lice as well because they tend to move quickly in the hair. Apply conditioner to the comb or hair brush, and comb each section of the hair four or five times. Wipe the conditioner on the comb with a paper towel and look on the towel for lice or eggs. If you find lice or eggs, seek immediate treatment. If you find hatched eggs in spite of recent treatment, you may not require further treatment. The eggs could be from the previous infection.


Treatment of head lice commonly involves the ‘conditioner and comb’ method along with the use of an insecticide. There are several brands and products available at the local drug store without a prescription. While the lotions have to be applied on the dry hair, the shampoos are applied on wet hair with minimum use of water to avoid diluting the anti-lice chemicals. All the products should be applied consistently to all parts of the hair. You may, however, talk to a doctor before using the products, especially if you are pregnant or breastfeeding, less than 12 months old, are allergic to chemicals in the anti-lice products, or have open scalp wounds.

The lice may be resistant to the products. If the insecticide has worked, the lice will be dead within 20 minutes. If the lice are alive, you may have to find a product with a different set of active ingredients. No treatment kills all the eggs with one application. Most methods require two applications, seven days apart.

If you do not want to use chemicals, you may use the ‘comb and conditioner’ method every second day for a period of 10 days to remove the head lice. Special combs with long rounded stainless steel teeth, positioned very close together, are the most effective.


Avoiding contact with individuals who have head lice is the best way to prevent the spread. You may also check weekly for lice, and use the ‘conditioner and comb’ method regularly to control the spread.

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