What Does Lice Look Like

Head lice have infested humans for thousands of years. Lice (singular: louse) are insects that are found on the heads of humans, on the scalp, to be specific. They feed on human blood, and breed on the surface of a person’s scalp. Did you get notification from your child’s school that lice is going around? As a parent, it is important to be informed about any contagious disease or problem that is being passed around.

What does lice infestation look like?

It might take several weeks for an infested person to tell that he or she has lice, but if you experience any of these signs or symptoms, you may already be well along the way.

• Itching and irritation on the scalp, particularly at night (lice are active in the dark)
• A tickling sensation in the hair
• Allergic reactions (caused by the bites of the lice)
• Infected sores on the head, mostly from scratching

What does lice look like?

There are three things you need to look out for if you are suspicious about lice infestation. They are lice eggs, nymphs (young lice) and adult lice.

• Lice eggs (nits). Lice eggs, which are laid by female adult lice, are found on base of the hair shaft. They are sometimes mistaken for dandruff, but a close look will reveal that they are oval-shaped, about the size of a knot in thread, and may be white, yellow, or the same color as the hair. Their small size makes them very difficult to spot without a magnifying glass. Nits hatch after about 9 days.

• Nymphs: These are immature lice, those that have just hatched from a nit. They already feed on blood, and look like miniature adult lice. They mature in about 9-12 days after hatching.

• Adult: A mature adult louse is no bigger than a sesame seed and is a grayish-white color; however their color is usually easier to spot on persons with light hair. Adult lice can live up to 30 days on the scalp. Female lice can lay about six eggs in a day, and are typically bigger in size than adult males.

How do you treat lice?

Treatment of a person with lice infestation requires the use of pediculicide, an insecticide used to kill head lice. This medication is applied directly to the scalp of the infested person, and left on for a period of time before being washed off.

The different types of pediculicide are:

• malathion: These cover over-the-counter (OTC) preparations such as Quellada, Derbac M, Prioderm, Suleo M. These don’t require a prescription.
• phenothrin: brands such as Full Marks; available OTC
• permethrin: brands such as Lyclear; available OTC
• carbaryl (Carylderm), which may only be given upon prescription

NOTE: If your child has already been treated for the scabies rash the permethrin cream used for that is much stronger than is needed for lice. Lice can be treated with a 1 percent solution whereas scabies mites- see scabies pictures-requires a 5 percent prescription strength.

A simple procedure might be as follows:

1. The infested person removes any clothing which might be stained by the pediculicide.
2. The treatment area must be well-ventilated.
3. With hair unwashed, the person applies pediculicide on the scalp, using a spray bottle. Using gloves, the solution must be worked into the scalp.
4. After about 10 minutes (or as directed), rinse the hair and scalp thoroughly.
5. After towel drying, use a fine-toothed comb to section the hair and remove all nits from the scalp.
6. If any lice are found alive 8 to 12 hours after treatment, your doctor may prescribe a different pediculicide. Continue to check the scalp every day for nits and lice for about two to three weeks until all traces are gone.

What does a lice-free scalp look like?

Provided that the pediculicide treatment works, a person’s scalp should look clean and free from abrasions or lesions caused by scratching. There may be a slight lingering smell from the pediculicide, but this will eventually fade. After treatment, it is important to consult your doctor about when to use your regular shampoo and conditioner.

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