Lice are tiny, wingless parasites with six legs that may infect the scalp and other body parts, giving you an unbearable itching sensation. A common skin condition, lice infestation can occur in the people of any age group. Lice feed on human blood and can easily spread from one person to another (lice are contagious). They grip the hair shafts with their strong hook-like claws, making it difficult to remove them. Head lice are not the only skin parasites. Besides them, there are other types of lice as well that may infest different body parts. Read on to know more about them.
Table of Contents
- 3 Types of Lice
- What You Should know about Head lice?
- Body Lice Infestation
- Public Lice/Crab Lice
3 Types of Lice
Lice come in three main types. Let’s read on to find what you should know about each one of them.
1. Head Lice
These parasites are found only in humans. These can be anywhere on your scalp, particularly on the nape of the neck. Their only food source is human blood.
2. Body Lice
Different from common head lice, body lice stay on your clothing and lay eggs on them. They feed on human blood and when they need to suck it, they crawl and get it from your body.
3. Public Lice/Crab Lice
The smallest in size, public lice are different in looks. When you see them through a microscope, they have large front legs and a crab-like body. These too breed in the hair but not the scalp hair but the hair in the genital area. When such man or woman have sex, these lice can easily transfer from one body to the other.
What You Should know about Head lice?
Having a comprehensive knowledge about head lice symptoms and causes help a great deal in treating this embarrassing issue. Read on to know everything related to head lice, live lice and lice eggs.
Who Gets Head Lice?
Head lice are more common among young preschoolers and the kids in elementary classes. As American Academy of Dermatologists confirms it, each year about 6 to 12 million kids fall victim of head lice infestation. And most of them are between the age of 3 to 12. As lice are contagious, anyone who is in direct contact with such infested heads can be at the risk of getting them.
How to Check for Head Lice?
The first sign that most people experience is an uncontrollable itching. But there could be several other reasons of itching like dandruff or a shampoo that does not suit your scalp. So the first step should be to determine the real cause of itching. Follow the steps given below.
- Look for white specks in the hair, particularly after itching.
- These might be nits (lice’s eggs) or dandruff.
- Dandruff is found in a rough form, scattered everywhere in your head. While nits are glued closely to the roots of the hair. Nits have yellowish color and a tear-like shape.
- To confirm more, brush those white specks off, if they come off easily (scattered on your shoulders), its dandruff. But if it stays glued on its place, you are infested with lice.
- Wetting the hair can make it easy to see them.
- Apply a good amount of conditioner in hair and comb them with a lice comb.
- Start checking the hair from behind the ears or at the nape of the neck. Make sure that the room has enough light. Otherwise seeing live head lice with naked eyes would not be possible. Having a magnifying glass can make things a lot easier.
- Divide your hair in sections and check each section one by one. Finding even one on the comb is the indication of lice infestation.
How Head Lice Spread?
Lice cannot fly or hop, all they can do is to crawl from place to place. Head to head contact is the most common cause of head lice infestation. Besides that, sharing your household items (towel, combs, brushes, clothes, caps, coats, scarves etc.) with the infested people can easily cause lice problem.
Symptoms of Head Lice
The most common symptoms of lice infestation may include;
- Constant itching.
- A moving sensation or tickling.
- Soars or red bumps on the scalp (as a result of itching).
- Sleeplessness because of irritation and continuous itching.
- Appearance of tiny sand grain like bodies on hair shafts.
Head lice Allergies
In extreme cases of lice infestation, you may end up with a severe allergic reaction resulted from louse saliva. Its most common symptoms are continuous itching on your neck, ear and scalp. Some other allergic reactions may include—tender lymph nodes on the neck and infected bumps on hair line or on the top of the back.
What if you Suspect Head lice?
If you suspect head lice, it is advised to confirm it by seeing your dermatologist. Many times head lice are confused with dandruff, hair debris or empty nits. So, before trying some over-the-counter shampoos or medications, get it checked by some health care professional. If your child has got infested from his school, notify the school about the issue. It is an essential step for the prevention of head lice in future.
Getting Rid of Head Lice
Once you are confirmed about the presence of these nasty parasites in your or your kid’s scalp, opting for head lice treatment should be the immediate step. For treating it, there is an array of home remedies and over the counter prescription medications.
Home Remedies for Head Lice
There are a number of home remedies for head lice treatment. But these should not be taken as the ultimate solution (medication is advised). The most recommended home remedies for curing lice and nit infestation are;
- Mayonnaise smothers and suffocates lice. It also affects their speed to move between the hair. Apply it and leave for some time. Then use special nit comb in sectioned hair to get rid of them. It can be tough to wash it out completely. Use shampoo and hot water to rinse it off.
- White Vinegar (or apple cedar vinegar) is a known remedy because its strong ingredients cut down the glue that keeps those sticky nits attached to your hair shafts.
- Tea Tree Oil is yet another effective remedy for head lice. It is a natural insecticide. Apply it well and then brush your hair with a lice comb.
- Garlic Paste can suffocate these fussy parasites, if used regularly. For best results, add some lemon juice in thick garlic paste (garlic’s smell irritates lice).
If you don’t get relief from any of the above mentioned home remedies, consult your dermatologist for some anti-lice medication. Pay special heed during pediatric application, as these medications come with the most common side effects like—eye irritation, eye redness and dry skin. Secondly, make certain, your kids are not using it without any adult supervision. That is essential to avoid the undesirable situations like an accidental ingestion of these products by kids.
Most Popular Head Lice Myths
- People used to connect head lice infestation with poor hygiene. But this myth is busted now. Research has proved that there is no link between head lice and uncleanliness.
- Head lice do not spread from animals and pets. Many people relate it to dog lice and recommend a flea shampoo as a suitable cure. That is wrong. Both are quite different. Just know, head lice live on human blood ONLY.
- Head lice are harmless and do not cause transmission of any disease in your body.
Head Lice and School
We understand head lice to be a serious problem. But it should never stop a child from going to school. Schools should ensure to check the kids with head lice problem and notify their parents for regular treatment. Schools should also educate the students about the side effects of head-to-head contacts. There are some schools that follow the ‘NO NITS’ policy and do not allow the kids to attend the school until the nits are removed completely. That practice should be discouraged.
Body Lice Infestation
When you fall victim of body lice infestation, these small parasites not just stay on your body but adult lice also lay eggs on your clothes and bedding. When body lice need blood, they come to your naked skin to suck it (3 to 4 times in a day). Body lice tend to release its waste on your clothing or on your skin. These are quite similar to head lice in looks but it’s bigger in size. Body lice are usually found near the body areas where the eggs get proper heat (about 75° and 100° Fahrenheit) for hatching. A female louse lays about 300 eggs in her whole adulthood and 10 eggs in a day. Sometimes lice eggs can be seen in body hair. The sooner these lice eggsor hatch, you will have more newly hatched louse roaming over you. The juvenile louse is equally irritating and may intensify the itching.
Causes of Body Louse
The most common cause of body lice is poor hygiene. Body lice is not as common as head lice. It is often observed among prisoners who live in unhygienic conditions or in destitute and homeless people who barely change their clothes or take a bath. Body lice are contagious. If someone comes in contact with the infested person or his belongings (clothing, towel or bedding), he too can end up with it. Kids are less likely to have it.
Symptoms of Body Lice
- The most common symptom of body lice is constant itching (pruritus).
- The lice saliva may cause allergic reaction to the skin on neck and torso. The infested person may experience red, inflamed bumps or welt-like marks.
- Victim feels tired and fatigued.
- In reaction to the severe biting, the affected skin gets discolored and thick particularly around the body areas like groin and waist. This condition is termed as ‘vagabond’s disease’.
- The body parts like armpits, waistline, trunk or the area close to bra step (all the areas where clothes are tighter), are likely to experience itching and sores. These are the areas where your skin is continuously pressed with clothes.
- Scratching lice bites may cause skin infection (bacterial or fungal).
- In the places with poor hygiene and worst sanitary conditions, body lice may cause some diseases. These may include—louse-borne (epidemic) typhus, trench fever and louse-borne relapsing fever.
Diagnosis of Body Lice
To diagnose it, keep checking the skin or seams of clothes for any signs of eggs and crawling parasites. They are good enough in the size (about the size of sesame seeds) and can be seen with your naked eyes. They can be seen crawling on your clothes or beddings. Using a magnifying glass can also help in detecting louse’s presence. The most recommended way is to get it checked by some professional healthcare provider. People with body lice should also be tested for public and head lice.
How to Control Body Lice?
The first and the most important step to control body lice infestation is to opt for an improved hygienic routine. The infested person should take bath daily and change the clothes at least twice a week. The other people who are sharing space with the infected person (especially their sex partner), should also take care of their personal hygiene. Besides that, the clothes, towel and bedding of the infested person should be washed in hot water and dry cleaned regularly (throwing them away is another applicable option) to avoid any body lice involvement. The temperature while dry cleaning should be about 130 degrees Fahrenheit for at least 30 minutes. Ironing the clothes will also help in killing the body lice and nits. Make certain that no one is sharing the belongings of the infested person.
Using Pesticides to Treat Body Lice
Those who have hairy bodies should wash their bodies with some safe and dermatologist’s recommended pesticide (pediculicide). Prefer to use the ones that contain pyrethrum extracts or permethrin. Doctors may also prescribe you to wash your body with some liquid containing benzyl alcohol or malathione. Just make sure, you are not using any lice medication without doctor’s prescription.
Public Lice/Crab Lice
Residing in coarse body hair, these parasitic insects are 2mm long in yellowish-grey hue. They have six tiny legs. Quite different from the other two types of lice, lets read on to know more about it.
What are Public Lice?
Public lice are tiny crab-like bodies. These are severer than the other two types of lice. Public lice are contagious and it spread with sexual connection. If someone is diagnosed with public lice, that does not mean he is dirty or unhygienic. Anyone who comes in close physical contact with the infested person can have this problem.
Where are Public Lice Found?
The most common places for public lice infestation are the public hair on your genital areas. Besides that, the other body parts like hairy armpits, chest hair, eyebrows, eyelashes, moustache, beards, even your facial hair too are at the risk of public lice infestation. Using infested person’s clothes and bedding too may cause public lice. Public lice do not cause by the everyday activities like hand shake, hugging or sitting with the infested person. Some people fear it to be the result of sharing the same furniture or toilet seat. But that is not true. Public lice are not likely to leave their human host except when they are dead. As they feed on human blood, they can’t survive without blood for more than two days.
Note: Kids too can suffer from public lice infestation, especially when they sleep with the infested person in the same bed. They can get lice in their eyebrows and eyelids (blepharitis). If you find kids with public lice infestation in their genital areas, it might be an indication of sexual abuse (be careful as parents).
Symptoms of Public Lice
- Itching (biting louse cause it) in the genital parts of the body is the first and the most common symptom of public lice. Itching takes place after 5 to 6 days of initial infestation. As reports suggest, itching tends to increase at night.
- Some victims might experience low grade fever with public lice.
- Infested person feels low and irritated for most of the time.
- Appearance of pale bluish spots near public lice’s bites
- If itching exceeds, victim may end up with skin allergies and lice parasite infection in the affected body part.
- Those who are already suffering from some sexually transmitted disease are more likely to fall victim of public lice. So, they better be careful about intense and constant itching sensation.
Diagnosing public lice is quite simple. All you need to do is to check your genital area closely. Visually observing lice is quite possible, but you can also use a magnifying glass to see them. It may help in a better diagnosis. Here is what you need to look for;
- Find the tiny crab-like bodies of live lice crawling in your public hair. These parasites are grayish pale in color. Some might have them in darker shades (continuous sucking of blood might change the color into some darker shade).
- Lice eggs too indicate the severe lice infestation. Lice lay tiny yellow or white nits. On seeing closer, nits can be tracked around the roots of the public hair.
- If you still are not sure, get it checked by your doctor.
How are Public Lice Treated?
- The first step should always be prevention. Make sure you are not using infected person’s towel or bedding. Wash infested person’s clothes, towel and beddings in extremely hot water to kill eggs and lice.
- For treating it, there are a number of over-the-counter medicated shampoos, drugs, creams and lotions. You don’t need to consult your doctor before using them. These products are quite safe and you can use it by following the instructions given on the packaging. Nix, Rid and A-200 are the most common brands for curing public lice. Use them repeatedly after 9 to 10 days (only 1 product at a time), to get rid of lice permanently.
- For curing public lice in eye brows and eyelashes, you must consult your doctor first. Don’t do it on your own. It might be risky.
- Nursing and pregnant women must not use any medication without consulting their physician.
- For a permanent solution, medicines are available. Use them with your physician’s recommendation. Some of the best products for treating public lice may include—Malathion (Ovide), Ivermectin (Stromectol) and Lindane (extremely toxic, not suitable for pregnant or nursing ladies).
Lice cannot fly or jump, but they can crawl to get to the other victim. So, the best advice that we can offer to avoid future louse infestations is to follow all the precautionary measures to keep yourself distant from the infested people and area. None of its type is a health hazard. Instead of getting panicked, following the right lice treatments (as given above) is the best you can do.