Lice usually aren’t immediately noticeable; in fact, you might consider them to be somewhat sneaky in how they seem to suddenly appear out of nowhere. While lice are treatable and not anything to freak out about, no one is going to argue over the fact that keeping them at bay or even just catching them very early on is better than suddenly realizing you have a full infestation on your hands. Here we’ll talk about why it’s important to check for lice, how often you should be doing it, and the sort of prevention and treatment options at your disposal.
Schools used to routinely do head checks on kids, but they’ve been steadily phasing out this practice over the years. Nowadays, it’s really up to caretakers and individuals to check for lice on their own. For the most part, the only people who need to routinely check for lice are parents of younger children or those who work with younger children.
That being said, everyone from kids to adults can get lice, even if you don’t have kids or don’t work around kids. This is why it’s important to check for lice if someone at work or school happens to get lice, as it could be possible that they’ve spread them to you as well.
When checking for lice, it’s best to use a nit comb. Lice can be hard to see – especially in the early stages – and their nits can be even more difficult to spot. Many people assume they have dandruff, when they instead have lice because the two can sometimes look so similar. When you’re using a nit comb to check for lice, start combing from the scalp, as this is going to be the area where lice are, since they feed directly from the scalp and attach their nits – egg sacs – to the hair shaft close to the scalp.
For young children who are in school or daycare – or who just spend a good amount of time with other kids – it’s best to routinely check their hair, such as at bath time. If you can catch lice very early on, then it’s likely you’ll only have to deal with a few live adults and just a spot where they’ve laid their nits. This means you likely won’t even have to worry about buying any kind of treatment products, as wetting the hair and combing them all out with a nit comb should do the trick.
A Positive Head Check
We’ve talked about when and how to check for lice, but what about when that head check turns out to be positive for lice? If you find that your child, you, or someone else in your household has lice, then don’t worry; treating them can be an involved process, but it’s completely doable. As stated before, if you’ve got a small lice infestation, then you may not even need to go out and buy anything to treat them, as long as you have a nit comb.
Nit combing is very straightforward, if rather involved. If there’s a sizable infestation, then it’s likely that combing everything out will take several hours, if not a day or two of work. At this point it’s a good idea to look for some kind of non-toxic solution, or help from a professional.
You can always schedule a head check with our certified technicians. If you would rather learn how to do a thorough head check, you can schedule a time with our lice educators to learn how to detect lice easily.
Most parents are still surprised to learn that lice can be prevented in easily, naturally and practically. So, while lice does happen, it doesn’t have to happen to you! Research has also shown us that lice can recognize when a potential host has had an infestation before. Lice will sense this more appealing host and will most likely crawl over at an optimal time. This migration happens more frequently during head to head contact.
Here are Three Steps to keep you from getting infested.
- Educate your kids about sharing. All lice do not have the ability to jump or fly, so they hitch a ride from head to head using hairbrushes, combs, hats, scarves, helmets, and pillows—anything hair touches. So while it’s great to encourage your child to share toys and books, it’s a bad idea to share any of these lice vehicles. Here’s a simple rhyme that does the trick: If it touches hair, we don’t share. This goes for siblings too, since most lice are spread at home.
- Don’t over-wash hair. Squeaky-clean hair is a louse’s dream come true because it’s easier to attach their eggs (called nits) to it. The oil that builds up on hair shafts in between washes is a natural repellent because it causes a slippery surface that isn’t a safe place for fragile eggs. We recommend allowing 2-3 days between washings for a healthy scalp. When you do wash, make sure to use shampoos and conditioners with any of the following essential oils: tea tree oil, peppermint oil, rosemary oil, and lavender oil.
- Use prevention spray.Because sealing your children in an airtight bubble to prevent lice is not an option, you can help create a bubble of natural prevention around them using a DIY Spray or
LCA’s ready to use Preventative Spray. Using the peppermint formula, this all-natural spray can be spritzed daily behind ears and at the nape of the neck (where lice tend to enter the scalp) and even on items like hats, scarves, car seats and pillows. Along with preventing at home, you can prevent at home by donating preventative sprays and products to your child’s classroom.
Where did lice come from?
In our clinic we hear this question a couple times a day. Moms and dads are at their wits end trying to figure out where their child had picked up lice.
The long answer is far more extensive than necessary and goes back many years–in fact over 5 million years. It is thought that human head lice evolved from head lice on chimpanzees over 5.5 million years ago. Around 107,000 BC, it has been recorded that lice split into two groups; head lice and body lice. The earliest research was completed using DNA technology, and has noted these two separate lineages. The fact that head lice have been prevalent for so long tells us that humans have been dealing with head lice for a very long time and will likely continue to face this problem for years to come.
Head lice seem to follow the historical trajectory of humans; about 120,000 years ago, there was a significant contraction in the population of humans as humans migrated from Africa. This reduction in number of humans mirrored a similar pattern among head lice. Scientists are studying whether or not the lice that traveled out of Africa mutated and became significantly different from the lice left in Africa. Preliminary DNA analysis of early head lice shows two distinct types of head lice: one type was only found only in North America, while the other was found in other places including Africa.
An actual head lice nit was discovered about 10,000 years ago in 8,000 BC; the egg was found in the hair of a buried mummy in northeast Brazil. Following that discovery, in 7000 BC, head lice were discovered on a hair on a skull in Negev in Northern Israel. The cave was carbon-dated to 9,000 BC.
Even The Ancient Egyptians Had Head Lice Problems
The timeline of head lice discoveries continues with additional nits uncovered on an Egyptian mummy in 3,000 BC. The mummy was dated to 5,000 BC. Interestingly, lice combs were found in the tomb, showing us that while many things have changed, the method of choice for eliminating head lice, combing, remains unchanged. The ancient nit combs that were discovered Egypt look very similar to the combs of modern day. It has been said that Cleopatra had very elaborate nit combs; as we see today, lice knew no class barriers. If you had hair, regardless of your grooming habits or socio-economic status, you were susceptible to getting head lice. Thousands of years later, everyone is just as prone to getting lice.
As time continued, lice were discovered in lice combs that were dug up from archaeological sites in Israel and dated from about 1st Century BC to 8th Century AD. In the first century AD, a comb with a louse attached was excavated from a site in Cumbria, England. Additionally, a nit was discovered on a hair shaft of a female whose body was preserved in the lava of the Mt. Vesuvius volcanic eruption in 79 AD. It is thought that Rome had quite a prevalence of head lice at that time.
Additional evidence of head lice in Egypt was found in the 4th-6th centuries AD in Egypt. Again, lice combs were excavated with evidence of head lice on them. Findings of lice in Europe and Asia continued.
The first major discovery of head lice in the western hemisphere was in around 1100 AD on the hair of a mummy from Peru. The first record of head lice in the U.S. is from early 1800’s in Wisconsin. A lice comb made from bone was found in the 1930’s in Fort Crawford, Wisconsin and currently resides in the Wisconsin Historical Museum. It is not surprising that in a location where people were in close quarters, such as a fort, there would have been a lice outbreak.
Lice And Nits Are Here To Stay
The bottom line with lice is that they have been around a long time and appear here to stay. They are very hearty. When threatened, they mutate. Today we see strains of head lice that are dubbed “super lice” due to resistance that they have developed to chemical pesticide shampoos. After many thousands of years, what remains for humans is to accept that lice are here, they need our head and blood to survive, and that to eradicate a case, we need to comb and pick each nit and bug from the hair.
Due to lice being so persistent and resistant to over the counter treatments, many doctors are prescribing more extreme pesticides. These pesticides contain carcinogens, substances that has been known to cause cancerous cells. Aside from having these dangerous carcinogens, these pesticides have scary side-effects. California banned a few of these common pesticides because of their carcinogenic properties. There are chemical-free and non-toxic ways to eradicate lice from a person’s head. One should always try these safer alternatives before following up with a dangerous pesticide.
It is a common fact that children’s skin is more permeable than adults or teens. Because of this, it is very important to follow manufacture’s directions for treatment. It is very possible to have an overdose of these pesticides because of how well a child’s skin absorbs products. Along with the possibility of over-absorption of the pesticide, there is the added variable that their permeable skin is absorbing these carcinogenic chemicals. Even more frightening is the fact that the treatment is applied directly to the scalp, incredibly close to the brain.
Some of the side-effects are not very intimidating, like stinging or redness at the treatment site. Other side-effects are ridiculously fear-indusing. Difficulty breathing, hives, swelling of the face, lips, tongue, or throat. Treatments should not be done too closely together, there is usually a wait time of about two weeks before doing a second treatment.
What are the possible side effects of permethrin topical?
Signs of an allergic reaction: hives; difficult breathing; swelling of your face, lips, tongue, or throat, severe burning, stinging, redness, or swelling after applying permethrin topical.
Common side effects
- itching or mild skin rash;
- mild burning, stinging, or redness; or
- numbness or tingling where the medication was applied.
Inhalation of Permethrin: coughing, wheezing, shortness of breath, runny or stuffy nose, chest pain, or difficulty breathing.
Skin contact: rash, itching, or blisters.
Long term effects of Permethrin: disrupts the endocrine system by mimicking the female hormone, estrogen, thus causing excessive estrogen levels in females.
In human males, its estrogenizing effects include lowered sperm counts. In both, it can lead to the abnormal growth of breast tissue, leading to development of breasts in males and cancerous breast tissue in both male and females.
Neurotoxic effects include: tremors, incoordination, elevated body temperature, increased aggressive behavior, and disruption of learning. Laboratory tests suggest that permethrin is more acutely toxic to children than to adults.
Other: A known carcinogen. There is evidence that pyrethroids harm the thyroid gland. Causes chromosomal damage in hamsters and mice; deformities in amphibians; blood abnormalities in birds.
Another common component in over the counter treatments is Methylparaben. There is controversy about whether methylparaben is harmful at concentrations typically used in body care or cosmetics. Methylparaben is considered generally recognized as safe for food and cosmetic antibacterial preservation. These recognitions are broadly accepted as safe in small doses, unlike the doses used in OTC treatments.
Methyl paraben (head lice cream rinse Nix; regulated as a drug not as a pesticide): a skin sensitizer, causes eye, skin, digestive, and respiratory irritation.
So, what’s the big deal?
While pyrethroids may be amongst the least toxic of insecticides, they are an excitatory nerve poison, acting upon the sodium ion channels in nerve cell membranes: by sending a train of impulses rather than a single one, they overload the pathways, blocking the passage of sodium ions across cell membranes; similar in action to organophosphates (which include the now banned DDT); inhibits ATPase, which affects the release of acetylcholine, monoamine oxidase-A and acetylcholine;
inhibits GABAa receptors, resulting in convulsions and excitability (and more ‘minor’ problems such as sleep disorders);
it is a known to be carcinogenic;
can cause liver damage
distresses healthy thyroid function
has caused chromosomal abnormalities in lab mice and hamsters;
considered highly toxic to insects, fish, and birds;
can mimic estrogen, leading to estrogen dominant health problems in females and feminizing effects in males, including lowered sperm counts and abnormal breast development;
sublethal doses have produced a wide array of abnormal behaviors, such as ADHD, including aggression, and disruption in learning and learned behaviors.
It is easy to get lice. Lice are spread by head-to-head contact and are much harder to get than a cold, the flu, ear infections, pink eye, strep throat or impetigo.
Avoiding lice is important, as they are dirty and spread disease. Lice do not spread any known disease, nor are they impacted by dirty or clean hygiene. They are just annoying.
Head lice are very sturdy creatures and can survive many days off of people in furniture, linens or clothing. Head lice need a blood meal every few hours and the warmth of the human scalp to survive. When off the human body, they cannot survive for more than 24 to 36 hours.
Nits (lice eggs) can fall off a person’s head, hatch and cause another person to get lice. Nits are glued to the hair shaft by a cement-like substance and are very hard to remove. When a nymph (baby louse) is hatched, it must quickly have the warmth and food source of a head to survive.
Cutting a person’s hair will prevent head lice infestations. The length of a person’s hair does not impact his or her risk of getting head lice.
You can get head lice from sitting in a desk next to someone who is infested with head lice. Head lice are spread through direct head-to-head contact. The lice do not hop, jump or fly, so sitting near someone with head lice does not increase the risk of getting the lice.
Lice are commonly spread throughout schools. Transmissions in schools are rare. It is more common to get head lice from family members, overnight guests and playmates who spend a lot of time together.
Lice are commonly spread through hats or helmets. Although spread through hats or helmets is possible, it is rare. It is more common for transmission to occur from pillows, hairbrushes or sheets. The most common type of transmission is from head-to-head contact.
Schools and child-care facilities should screen all children for head lice, so everyone can be treated and the spread of head lice will be prevented. Having regularly scheduled mass screenings does not reduce the incidence of head lice. “No-nit” policies reduce the risk of head lice in schools and child-care facilities. Research shows “no-nit” policies do not decrease the number of cases of head lice. They do increase the risk of incorrect diagnosis of head lice, the number of days children are out of school, and negative social stigma associated with head lice. They also may hinder academic performance.
You can get lice from your dog or other pets. Head lice are specific to humans. You can get human lice only from other humans. You cannot give your pets lice.
When you receive a school notice about head lice, or when you want to check your child for lice, you don’t always know what lice eggs look like. How do lice eggs look vs how dandruff looks?
How can you tell the difference? When you look at your child’s head, you see some white flecks the size of a sesame seed: are they nits, or are they just dandruff or hair debris?
The main difference between head lice eggs and dandruff is that lice eggs are glued to the hair shaft; they are firmly attached to the hair, and are not easily removed.
On the contrary, dandruff is not attached to the hair and can be easily brushed off.
- Dandruff is a common form of skin eczema, also called Seborrheic dermatitis. It is thought to be caused by an overproduction of oil by the skin, and it is called dandruff when it affects the scalp. Dandruff looks like thick, flaky, white to yellowish localized patches of scale, and can occur together with red, irritated skin.
- Lice eggs are like white to yellowish drop shaped speck on your hair, the size of a sesame seed. They are 0.8 millimeter long and 0.3 millimeter wide. What happens is that lice eggs have a grey or caramel color when they are laid by the female louse, and they turn yellowish to white when they are empty. So, the color is not always the same, and that’s why it should not be your only criteria when looking for head lice eggs.
Nits can indeed be very difficult to see. After they hatch, the shell of the egg can remain in the hair for several months, because as said above, it is firmly attached to it.
In this case, it will be whitish. Of course, empty nits can be easily confused with dandruff when you only look at the color. But try to brush them off, and if it sticks, it means you are dealing with lice eggs.
Dandruff is usually located all over the scalp, while lice eggs are usually primarily located behind the ears and in the neck area, as this is where female lice prefer to lay their eggs. But if your child is severely infested, you’ll also find nits all over the head.
Another important point is that live lice eggs will be located within one centimeter from the scalp, even less (usually half a centimeter).
If you find nits further away from the scalp, they will either be dead or not viable, so you don’t have to worry about them hatching.
Remember that the only solid criteria to tell if you have lice eggs or dandruff is to brush the hair with your hand:
lice eggs will stick, dandruff will be brushed off.
“A disturbing new study has linked a common chemical found in head lice treatments to behavioral difficulties in children.”
According to Yahoo’s report on Pyrethroids, there is a correlation with using lice treatments and neurodevelopmental damage. Although, there is a correlation, the research which was published in the journal Occupational & Environmental Medicine, does not state that Pyrethroid use causes neurodevelopmental damage. Correlation and causation don’t always agree, but correlation is enough evidence to deter most parents from using Pyrethroid treatments.
Check out the rest of the article here “New Study Links Head Lice Treatments to Abnormal Behavior in Children”