Lice – the wit of nits!
The rich, the poor and the in between, all face a common problem. The children, boys and girls, bring it home, however hygienic they may be. Lice(Pediculus Capites) are more common in children than adults. They are repulsive and make one irritable and frustrated with their presence, due to the scratching and itching. Lice are tenacious, agile and adverse to light and crawl very fast, migrating rapidly. They do not fly and are grey/black while the nits are white. They do give you the creeps!
Head lice could be a sign of poor hygiene. They can be present in the form of eggs, nymphs or adult lice. The oval shape eggs that stick close to the scalp on the shaft of the hair, take about 10 days to hatch. The baby lice or nymphs then take over the playing field and could be just as troublesome as the adults, which are about the size of sesame seeds. The adults live up to 30 days in a friendly environment but when outside the scalp it survives 2-3 days. The cycle of untreated head lice takes about three weeks to multiply. Keep a steady watch so it is better for all.
Where do the lice come from!
Children, who move very closely with each other such as class, boarding school, public transport, etc, pick up the lice which survive by sucking blood from the scalp. The warmth of the head and the hair provide a perfect environment for them to flourish. Scalp infection is very much in children because of the irritability felt when the parasite is sucking blood which is very frequent.
The lice crawl very quickly from scalp to any other part on the body. Wash hair separately. Using separate towel for the head which has been infested and another for the body make sense. Other personal items such as combs, hair bands, head scarves, hats, caps, bed linen such as bed sheets, pillows could all be carrying the eggs/lice.
Symptoms of lice infestation:
The common symptoms of lice infestation are:
- Constant scratching – this can lead to bacterial infection
- Soreness in the scalp – the lymph glands get swollen and red
- Scalp infestation in severe cases – may require an oral antibiotic
- General irritability – may have a mild irritation with rash
- Excoriation – a superficial abrasion or ulceration of the skin caused by scratching.
Children are extremely busy playing to show any symptoms at the beginning. Lice can have a free run of the field for about two weeks before causing discomfort by which time they have multiplied.
For purpose of satisfaction, parents must inspect the heads of children every three days, or until they are old enough to be able to voice their concern of what could be troubling them. Prolonged infestation may lead to malaise and poor mental performance. This experience could disturb their every day life and studies, apart from being an embarrassment to parents and themselves. Make sure you do the inspection under bright light with a magnifying glass as the lice/nits will be close to the scalp and hardly visible.
How to get rid of these parasites?
There are several ways to get rid of lice. The important exercise is to remove the lice from its comfort zone! A fine tooth comb can be used to draw out the bloodsuckers. Ensure a cloth is placed on the shoulders of the person every time a comb is used on the head, regardless of cleaning out lice or otherwise. It will help falling hair or dandruff to fall on the cloth and not on the clothes or ground. Ensure that each one in the house have separate towels, comb, personal toiletry.
Oil the hair:
Use coconut hair oil with a pinch of camphor powder melted into the oil. This is an economical remedy that has no chemicals. The mixture should be applied liberally to the scalp and roots of the hair. This may be applied at night. With a towel wrapped around the head or covered with a shower cap, the child could go to sleep and the hair washed the following morning. Camphor water should be used a couple of days later to get rid of the remnant lice and their eggs.
The coconut oil will nourish the scalp and hair but paralyse/ suffocate the lice. The camphor will kill the lice due to its anti-parasitic action.
Feugreek seeds (methi):
Take a handful of fenugreek seeds and soak them overnight in clean water. Make a paste and apply on the scalp. Let the paste stay for half an hour. Wrap the head with a towel or cover the head with a shower cap. Wash and shampoo as done usually. Treat the remnant lice and the nits by using camphor water after a couple of days.
The fenugreek seeds have potent pesticidal, anti-bacterial and anti-fungal properties. It prevents hair fall and increases growth of hair.
Garlic and limejuice:
Take a few pods of garlic and crush them. Add lemon juice to make it into a paste. Apply the paste to the scalp and leave for about half an hour. Wrap the head with a towel or cover the head with a shower cap. Wash and shampoo as done with a normal shampoo.
The mixtures of garlic and lime have astringent properties and ward of insects and pests. The garlic skins could be placed in areas where snakes are found.
The good old fashion way to clean the head is to wet the hair with water and conditioner before hand. Water temporarily immobilises the lice and the conditioner makes it easier to run a fine tooth comb through the hair, drawing out the lice.
Custard apple seed powder:
Dried seeds of the custard apple are made into a powder. This could be made into a paste by adding gram flour. Apply the paste to the scalp and leave for half an hour. Cover the head with a shower cap. Shampoo the hair thereafter. Comb out the hair for dead lice.
The components in the seeds will eliminate the lice quickly. Repeat the above till head is lice free.
Neem leaves together with Tulsi leaves can be crushed, made into a paste and applied on the scalp. Ayurvedic stores stock Neem oil which is easier to use. Wait for about half an hour and shampoo as usual. Comb out the hair for dead lice. Repeat the above procedure till head is lice free. This should be possible in a fortnight’s time.
Neem has many health benefits and is known as a potent antibacterial and antimicrobial agent.
With cotton balls apply the vinegar to the scalp. Cover the head with a shower cap and allow to stay overnight. Wash the hair next morning. Comb out the hair for dead lice. Repeat twice a week. Results will be seen in a fortnight.
Make sure that the person is not allergic to any of the above. Do a patch test.
When do you visit the doctor?
Lice can be removed by hand from infants. However, if you are unable to handle the situation at home, it would be wise to consult a doctor who might recommend a medicated shampoo, depending on the age of the child. Please follow the doctor’s advice on washing of the head as the medication could be strong. Use a pair of gloves if required. Please ensure that shampoo/conditioner combination is not used before applying the medication.
If a child has lice ensure the hair drier is not used as it may suck in the lice and transfer to the next person using the hair drier. It is also possible that the medication could be flammable. Do not use more than one medication at a time. Ensure you advise the doctor in case of asthma or any allergy.
The doctor may prescribe Gamma-benzene hexachloride for 2 to 3 days which should be effective.
12 ways to prevent lice infestation:
- Fumigation of clothes is very important even if one person in the house is infested with lice. Make sure each one has their own pillow/pillow case and bed sheet while travelling.
- It is best for pregnant ladies not to use pharmacy based lotions. The Doctor should be consulted.
- Lice are parasites which live and reproduce on the human scalp, eye lashes, bushy eye brows and any part of the body that has hair, which is not cared for.
- Care should be taken to ensure that house maids are lice free to avoid passing it on to the household members.
- The head should be covered in crowded places as long and curly hair takes longer to clean than short hair.
- Instruct children not to have head-to-head contacts or share other people’s combs/helmets.
- In consideration for others, it would be wise to ensure the child is lice free before they go to school.
- Vacuum clean carpets, curtains and ensure the dust, etc are properly disposed off.
- Soak hair-care items like combs, brushes, hair bands and ties in disinfectant.
- If one person in the house has lice, the whole family should be treated to ensure no transfer of lice.
- It would be wise to braid the hair or keep it knotted to ensure lice do not transfer easily, as they are highly contagious and move in group settings like camps, slumber parties, sports activities, childcare centres, schools, buses.
- Fine tooth comb hair every three days for three weeks to ensure the lice have not returned.
Have you seen monkeys cleaning their young? It is a constant effort of men and mammal to be hygienic!