Frequently Asked Questions
What are Head Lice and Nits?
Head lice, medically known as Pediculosis capitis, are parasitic insects that live on the human scalp. They have six legs with claws designed to grasp onto the hair shaft. Head lice vary in color from light to dark brown. After a blood meal, they're dark brown. However, as the blood digests, the color continues to lighten. Adult lice are about the size of a sesame seed. Head lice develop in three stages: nit, nymph, and adult louse. The adult female louse lays about six to ten eggs each day. Nits are the oval-shaped lice eggs that the female louse lays. Nits can be lighter or darker shades of brown or gray in color, and they are cemented to the hair shaft. Nits hatch into a nymph or baby louse within one week. A week later, the nymph becomes an adult louse. Head lice feed on human blood, which results in severe itching. Head lice is very common among school children.
What are the symptoms?
The most obvious sign of head lice is the presence of lice and nits on the head. Inspect your child’s hair and scalp. Check for nits behind the ears, on the crown of the head, and at the nape of the neck. The following four symptoms may indicate a head lice infestation:
- Itching is usually the first sign that lice may be present. It is also the most common lice symptom. Children may be itching only slightly more than usual or you may notice vigorous and frequent itching.
- Sometimes, small red sores form on the scalp due to scratching after being bitten by the louse.
- Your child may complain that someone is “tickling him on his hair.” This is the louse crawling around.
A head lice infestation can take over your life! It is quite common for parents to spend hours treating head lice without solving the problem. When you know there’s a lice infestation immediately hire a professional to help you to resolve the problem.
Where Do Head Lice Come From?
Head lice do not come out of the air or from the ground. They are human parasites and have probably been here since the beginning of time. Desiccated (dried up) head lice and their eggs (nits) have been found on the hair and scalps of Egyptian mummies.
How are Head Lice Spread?
Head lice can be spread whenever there is direct contact of the head or hair with an infested individual. Lice can also be spread through the sharing of personal articles like hats, towels, brushes, helmets, hair ties, etc. There is also a possibility of spreading head lice via a pillow, headrest or similar items. Head lice do not jump or fly and generally cannot survive longer than 24 hours off the host.
How long can nits and lice survive off of a head?
Once laid, it takes 7-10 days for a nit to hatch. Nits off the head may not even hatch at all as they are laid close to scalp because they need human warmth to incubate. A nit hatching off of a head results in tiny nymph head louse which, without an accessible/nearby human, is doomed because it requires an immediate blood meal. Adult head lice off of their human hosts will generally not survive for more than 24 hours.
What is the life cycle of the head louse?
A louse, can live on a human host for approximately 30 days. They generally cannot survive longer than 24 hours off the host.
How many eggs can a head louse lay in a day?
A single female louse lays eggs twice a day, 6-10 eggs each time. Multiply that by the 10, 20, even 40 or 60 bugs that might be on the head and it’s easy to realize how a severe infestation can develop so quickly. The eggs hatch in 7-10 days and it takes another 7-10 day for the louse to mature and lay their own eggs.
Do pets get head lice?
Head lice cannot be "caught" from pets and cannot survive on pets. They are human parasites and require human blood for survival.
Are you wondering why your child got head lice?
Lice are transmitted by direct contact (head to head, head to item) and lice don’t hop, jump or fly, the only way for them to move is by crawling. People get lice from other people usually because they have close contact (e.g. sleeping or play together, hugging, sitting close together at school, camps, playgrounds) or share items such as hats, brushes, etc.
Are African Americans susceptible to lice infestations?
African Americans are reported to have a much lower incidence of head lice than Caucasians, Hispanics or Asian Americans. Pediatric Dermatology cites various studies that suggest the incidence among African American schoolchildren is less than half of one percent, while the incidence among their non-black schoolmates is usually more than 10 percent. Even though African Americans may be less susceptible to infestations, this should not be grounds for complacency. African Americans can, and do, get head lice.
Why is it that some people seem to get head lice over and over again while others never do?
There is some truth to the fact that certain people just seem to attract lice. While nothing personal, it’s just that head lice are always on the lookout for a favorable environment. If you happen to be one of those unfortunate people – look - out! You’ll probably face more than your share of head lice infestations.
There are many factors that draw head lice to one individual over another. Blood type, particularly where the Rh factor is concerned, is among them. Head lice are amazingly intelligent. They have a sharp sense of smell and excellent eyesight. Head lice know what they need and will rarely move outside that environment. Only when faced with sure death do they cross over to an undesirable environment. Research has shown that lice avoid incompatible blood types unless they have reached the point of starvation. Even then, to feast on a new blood type can cause their intestinal tract to explode. While this sure means of death may slow down an infestation, it doesn’t necessarily prevent one. Once a female louse crosses over, she will often lay her first batch of eggs prior to feeding. When the newly hatched nymphs feed on the new blood type, change compatibility can occur.
Sometimes a louse will be fortunate enough to find a host that helps them travel between two more desirable environments. In this case the host serves as a bridge resulting in instances where there is an absence of live bugs and only a few eggs. The best way to explain it would be to picture a young child who has lice. Dad picks her up and she hugs him. In the process a bug crosses onto dad. He now puts that child down and before long picks up a second child. In this case dad served as a bridge from head to another.
Do head lice prefer clean hair or dirty hair?
We always ask our clients. “Which is easier to walk on—a clean floor or a dirty, greasy floor?” It’s the same with head lice. It’s much easier for them to move around on a clean head of hair. This doesn’t mean that an individual with a dirty head of hair won’t get lice and is certainly no reason to encourage poor hygiene in our children. Head lice need blood to survive. As long as we have blood, we are at risk.
Are head lice more prevalent in warmer climates?
The only difference that a warmer climate makes is that the bugs have the ability to move more freely about the hair and therefore can lay eggs throughout the hair. In colder climates they generally stay closer to the scalp. Head lice exist virtually everywhere!
What treatment options are available for my family?
Many treatment options are available, including prescription, over-the counter and homeopathic one. Treatment options include prescription products such as Qwell and Ovide, pyrethrin products like Nix, or permethrin products like Rid, which are available over the counter, as well as a wealth of other safe, non-toxic products. Homeopathic methods like olive oil and mayonnaise are popular in many households, but we urge caution when trying home remedies.
We encourage people to use safe, non-toxic products whenever possible. If, however, you could use one tool or product only, we would recommend a good lice comb. The most important thing is that you do something. Head lice left unattended will only escalate and spread to others.
There is no perfect product. The real secret is, know what you are looking for and take the time to treat correctly. We also encourage you to pay close attention to newer and safer alternatives frequently entering the market.
Finally, never resort to dangerous treatments of the past like kerosene, flea shampoos or insects sprays. Always at wisely and safely!
What about alternative and natural products?
Non-toxic remedies are obviously a preferred choice over pesticides whenever possible. However, this does not mean that everything touted as "natural" is across-the-board safe.
Many who try "alternatives" have already had failure with readily available pediculicides from the local drug stores. If there is success with such alternatives, we suspect that it may have to do with motivation and the "parent power" behind the effort - rather than any particular pediculicidal or ovicidal property.
No matter which remedy you are attempting - wrapping the hair in plastic or a shower cap and putting the children to bed is a bad idea. It is also a source of potential harm to use a wrap with any of the pesticidal treatments (whether in bed or not) as it may alter its chemistry and absorption rates.
Effective screening and combing is the ultimate complement to whatever course of action an individual selects. It is impossible to obtain independent scientific data as to the effectiveness and safety on many of the different ideas being circulated about "natural" remedies. Ultimately, it will always be the "parent power" behind the effort that makes the difference.
Should fluorescent lights be used for lice screenings?
Some health professionals recommend the use of fluorescent lighting in screening, but others have reported that it confuses the diagnosis because the light illuminates lint, hair debris and dry skin as well as the nits.
Nits are visible to the naked eye in natural light. If you are unsure whether you are seeing a nit, use a magnifying glass to take a closer look. For even better results, use a professional lice & nit removal comb to screen through the hair - it will collect even what you cannot see.
Too often, nits are confused with hair debris and children are treated unnecessarily. Be sure you know the difference between lice and nits from hair debris.
Do I have to treat everyone in the house?
Use a nit-removal comb to check everyone. Even if lice are found on an individual, careful consideration should be given before deciding to use a lice-killing treatment because each person has unique health vulnerabilities. Lice treatment products are potentially hazardous to health and should not be used "just in case" a child or family member has lice or in an effort to prevent them.
Does lice removal hurt?
Lice removal does not hurt. A good quality lice comb like our Professional Lice & Nit Terminator Comb with the proper tolerances between the long tines, is designed to work effectively on all hair types. We also use conditioner during our combing process making lice removal very comfortable. Some people are more sensitive to lice removal but if done by a professional service provider it is a painless experience. In fact many clients say they feel like they are getting a spa treatment and that the after-effect is soft, shiny and well-conditioned hair.
How can I be sure the Head Lice are gone?
Follow these clear guidelines to be absolutely sure that those lice are completely wiped out. A cluster of nits is defined as six or seven nits in one area. If you find a cluster of nits close to the scalp, which is an indication that your child may still have live lice on her head. Finding stray nits on the head is not an indication of live lice. Lice always lay the nits in clusters. Freshly laid nits will be near the scalp. As the hair grows, the older nits move further from the scalp. If the nits you are finding are not near the scalp, that means they are old nits. Nits normally hatch in 7 to 10 days. Nits never take more than two weeks to hatch. If the nits didn't hatch after two weeks, they never will. Old nits are dead nits. You can be certain that your child is lice-free when you have not found any live lice or clusters of nits for two weeks.
Do I need to spray my furniture and bedding?
Head lice are human parasites and require human blood to survive. They are not environmental pests so pesticidal sprays for furniture and bedding are unnecessary and a serious risk to health. Vacuuming is the safest and best way to remove lice or fallen hairs with attached nits from upholstered furniture, rugs, stuffed animals and cars. Remember that lice are not living in your environment, they are living on you.
Do I have to bag stuffed animals and other items?
Experts used to suggest bagging items such as stuffed animals for a number of weeks to help bring infestations under control. Since lice cannot survive without human blood, this is unnecessary. Vacuuming is a sufficient safeguard for any questionable areas or items that may be in contact with those who are infested. You can also put bed linens, stuffed animals and other items in a dryer for 30 minutes. Save your physical and emotional energies for screening and thorough lice and nit removal.