Lice Yikes !!
Lice are parasites, living externally on warm-blooded hosts which include every species of birds and mammals. Chewing lice live among the hairs or feathers of their host and feed on skin and debris, while sucking lice pierce the host’s skin and feed on blood and other secretions. They usually spend their whole life on a single host, cementing their eggs to hair or feathers. The eggs hatch into nymphs, which molt three times before becoming fully grown, a process that takes about four weeks. When a large number of lice live and multiply on a person, it is called an infestation. Human body hosts 3 types of lice:
- Head lice are usually found in hair, most often on the back of the neck and behind the ears. Head lice are common in preschool and elementary school-age children. Adults can get them too, especially adults who live with children.
- Pubic lice, also called crabs, are usually found in the pubic area. But they may also be found on facial hair, on eyelashes, on eyebrows, in the armpits, on chest hair, and, rarely, on the scalp.
- Body lice live and lay eggs (nits) in the seams of clothing. The lice are on the body only when they feed.
This article will primarily talk about head lice. The head louse is a tiny, wingless parasitic insect that lives among human hairs and feeds on tiny amounts of blood drawn from the scalp. Lice (the plural of louse) are a very common problem, especially for kids. They’re contagious, annoying, and sometimes tough to get rid of.
Although they’re very small, lice can be seen by the naked eye. Here are things to look for:
- Lice eggs (called nits). These look like tiny yellow, tan, or brown dots before they hatch. Lice lay nits on hair shafts close to the scalp, where the temperature is perfect for keeping warm until they hatch. Nits look sort of like dandruff, only they can’t be removed by brushing or shaking them off. Lice eggs hatch within 1 to 2 weeks after they’re laid. After hatching, the remaining shell looks white or clear and stays firmly attached to the hair shaft.
- Adult lice and nymphs (baby lice). The adult louse is no bigger than a sesame seed and is grayish-white or tan. Nymphs are smaller and become adult lice about 1 to 2 weeks after they hatch. If head lice are not treated, this process repeats itself about every 3 weeks.
- With lice, bites come itching and scratching. This is actually due to a reaction to the saliva of lice.
- Small red bumps or sores from scratching. Excessive scratching can lead to a bacterial infection (this can cause swollen lymph glands and red, tender skin that might have to crust and oozing).
For medication, most products come as a shampoo, crème rinse, or lotion (topical treatment) that is applied to the affected areas, left on for a period of time, and then rinsed off. You may be able to see the lice or nits by parting your child’s hair into small sections and checking for lice and nits with a fine-tooth comb on the scalp, behind the ears, and around the nape of the neck. A magnifying glass and bright light may help. But it can be tough to find a nymph or adult louse — often, there aren’t many of them and they move fast. Having head lice is not a sign of dirtiness or poor hygiene. The pesky little bugs can be a problem for kids of all ages and socioeconomic levels, no matter how often they do — or don’t — wash their hair or bathe. It also doesn’t matter how long or short a person’s hair is.
No matter how long the problem lasts, be sure to remind your child that although having lice can certainly be very embarrassing, anyone can get them. It’s important for kids to understand that they haven’t done anything wrong and that having lice doesn’t make them dirty. And reassure them that as frustrating as getting rid of the lice can be, there is light at the end of the tunnel. Be patient and follow the treatments and prevention tips as directed by your doctor, and you’ll be well on your way to keeping your family lice-free.
Lice spread easily from one person to another through close contact or through shared clothing or personal items (such as hats or hairbrushes). A louse cannot jump or fly.