Hair lice – A child’s nuisance, a parent’s nightmare. It is especially common amongst school-going children particularly those between ages of 4 to 11. Hair lice do not spread disease and neither do they cause serious harm. However, they may cause extremely irritating symptoms of itching and sensations of movement on the head which cause someone to seek for lice or kutu treatment.
These pin head-sized, grey-brown insects survive by sucking human blood from the scalp. These wingless insects cannot fly or jump and therefore, children actually catch hair lice through head-to-head contact with someone else having it. Also contrary to popular belief, head lice are not caused by dirty hair and neither do they have any preference for short or long hair lengths.
Hair lice lay their eggs, also known as nits, at the bases of hair strands. These brown oval eggs would hatch after 7-10 days, leaving behind white coloured empty shells. They eventually mature after 10-14 days into 2-4mm insects that are able to reproduce. Adult lice live for about 40 days, during which time a female louse may lay up to a hundred eggs. When lice detach from the scalp, they would eventually die within a few days.
Given their ability to reproduce so rapidly, the advice is that once you identify the problem, treat it immediately before it deteriorates further. It is not a condition which requires treatment from a general practitioner therefore you may solve this problem at home.
So, how do you get rid of the infestation? The initial step recommended to remove hair lice is known as “wet combing” which requires the following steps:
- Start off by washing hair with normal shampoo.
- Subsequently apply a large, generous amount conditioner to the hair and leave it in.
- Comb through hair from its roots to the ends with a fine-toothed comb. Repeat the strokes until you no longer see lice dropping out. This may take approximately 20-30 minutes for long hair and about 10 minutes for shorter hair.
- Repeat this wet combing every 3-4 days for about 2 weeks.
Nits on the other hand, are glued to hair. So, it is quite impossible to remove them using a comb. They are usually found at the base of hairs especially behind the ears and at the nape of the neck where the lice prefer to lay eggs. You may attempt to pick out the nits by yourself but that would certainly take a long time and though you may remove some, it is unlikely to remove all of them. Remember the hundred of eggs female lice can lay! Therefore, removing head lice before they can reproduce appears to be most practical solution to the problem.
However, should the head lice infestation persist after 2 weeks, you may consider using insecticide lotions. Most lotions have to be left in for about 12 hours with a repeat application required a week later for it to work. Lice can actually become resistant to the chemicals in these lotions. Therefore, if you find head lice persisting after the second application, consider using another lotion with a different active ingredient. Do be aware that the chemicals used in these lotions are strong and can cause allergic reactions. They are also not recommended for those below 6 months of age.
Unfortunately, we have yet to discover a one-day solution to eliminate hair lice. Its treatment certainly requires a lot patience and persistence. In the meantime, be sure to keep combs and brushes clean to prevent transferring nits or lice back to the scalp. Keep a look out for hair lice in other close contacts such as family members and friends as well.