Head lice

What are they?

Head lice are small insects that live in the scalp by periodically biting and sucking blood. The mature adult lice are able to attach the eggs, called nits, to the hair shaft with a strong gluey substance. This can make it quite difficult to remove the nits even after they have been successfully killed. The lice are passed from person-to-person by close personal contact or from infested clothing, furniture, and hairbrushes.

What are the symptoms?

The bites themselves are not what make head lice so bothersome for the person who has them. It is the itching. The itching is caused by the reaction the person has to the chemical the bug injects into the skin when it bites. Some people do not react very much to these chemicals, and consequently, they do not itch very much.

What can/should be done at home

Treatment consists of killing both the adults and the eggs they produce. And these must be killed in all those affected as well as the environment around them.

There are number of strategies that have been implemented to help eradicate an infestation of head lice. Here is one that, when done all at once, seems to work well:

  • Remove nits before applying permethrin (Nix) by soaking the hair in a solution made up of equal parts water and white vinegar. Put on a shower cap for 15 minutes. Comb through hair with a fine toothed comb. Rinse and thoroughly shampoo hair.
  • Use the permethrin (Nix) liquid cream rinse or lotion as directed.
  • Treat all affected family members at the same time - whether they seem affected or not.
  • Do not apply other cream rinse or vinegar shortly after using permethrin (Nix) as it may weaken its action.
  • This treatment will kill the lice and nits, but will not remove them. Gently comb through the hair to remove them. If they are stubborn, there are over-the-counter rinses that may be used to help loosen them without interfering with the action of the permethrin.
  • Wash all combs and brushes in hot water.
  • Launder all clothing and vacuum upholstery and carpets.
  • Don't forget to vacuum other items often forgotten such as bicycle helmets, car seats, sleeping mats, and stuffed animals.
  • Change the vacuum cleaner bag after doing all this.

Remember that nits remaining in the hair after treatment are dead.

When to get immediate attention

Head lice aren't an emergency (although they can be quite distressing for the parents.) If after trying the above suggestions the infestation remains, contact your physician for further advice.

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