Skin Conditions, Infant and Children | February 26, 2017 | Author: Naturopath
Every parent dreads the thought of their child coming home from school with head lice. They’re contagious, annoying and sometimes difficult to treat. With so many treatment options available –what natural ones REALLY work?
But first let’s get to know a little bit more about this tiny insect that creates such a stir.
The head louse is a wingless insect that spends its entire life on the human scalp, feeding on tiny amounts of blood up to several times a day. Head Lice (the plural of louse) cannot fly –they have short stumpy legs rendering them incapable of flying or even walking on flat surfaces. They aren’t dangerous, they don’t spread disease but their bites can make a child’s scalp itchy and irritated. On rare occasions scratches on the scalp can lead to secondary infections.
Exposure or association to a person with head lice for more than 10 minutes results in an 85% chance of becoming infected. This exposure usually occurs as a result of head-to-head contact.
Girls are two to four times more likely to get head lice compared to boys. Children aged between 4 and 14 years of age are most frequently infested. Other factors that increase the risk include the number of children per family, the sharing of beds and closets, hair washing habits, socioeconomic status, attendance at school/day-care, local customs and social contacts.
Although very tiny, lice and its eggs can be seen with the naked eye. Here are some things to look for:
Also referred to as nits, these tiny yellow or brown dots are found close to the scalp on the hair shaft. Being close to the scalp helps to incubate the eggs until they are ready to hatch.
Nits can often look like dandruff, however they can’t be combed or brushed off. After 6 to 9 days the eggs hatch, leaving a shell that remains firmly glued to the hair shaft. This egg shell becomes more obvious as it moves away from the scalp with hair growth.
The adult louse is about the size of a sesame seed and is greyish-white or tan in colour. Nymphs are baby lice that reach maturity 1 to 2 weeks after being hatched. This cycle is then repeated with females laying 3 to 4 eggs each day.
With all these lice bites comes the itchy scalp and scratching. The saliva of lice is what causes this reaction, but not always, sometimes it can take weeks for a child to start scratching.
Sometimes kids can describe they have a tickling sensation on their scalp.
Red sores and rashes are caused from scratching and irritation. If the scratching is excessive it may lead to a secondary bacterial infection. This can cause the scalp to become very tender and swollen with crusting and oozing. If this is the case for you child it is best to seek the help of a healthcare professional.
Gently part small sections of hair with a fine-tooth plastic or metal comb. Be sure to check behind the ears and at the nape of the neck. A magnifying glass and bright light may also help. Be aware it’s also far more common to spot eggs than to see live lice, unless there is severe infestation.
It’s best to treat head lice quickly as they can quickly spread from person to person. Here are some natural treatments, backed up by scientific evidence.
There are many natural products available containing tea tree for eliminating head lice and its eggs. The reason why? ...because it really works! One study involving 92 subjects with nits found tea tree, combined with a small amount of lavender oil was able to kill 44% of lice eggs. The group that received a treatment of eucalyptus and lemon tea tree oil only had 3.3% efficacy. Another study confirms this finding with 98% of people treated for head lice with tea tree and lavender being free of head lice after 3 treatments. The authors concluded that tea tree and lavender oil should be recommended as first line treatments.
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These products can be applied as a spray or lotion on dry hair, left on for 10 minutes and rinsed out. While the hair is still damp, starting at the top of the head, lift 2cm sections of hair with a fine-tooth comb. With a firm, even motion, comb from the scalp down the length of the hair. Wipe away eggs as you go with a tissue. Continue this process with each section of hair.
Unfortunately, there are no products which are 100% effective against killing all nits on the scalp. It is important to repeat the process one and two weeks after the first treatment to kill any remaining eggs before they hatch, mature and lay more eggs.
Products containing tea tree are not recommended for children under the age of 4 years unless under the guidance of your pharmacist, GP or naturopath.
Another chemical free option for treating head lice is a specialised electric comb that picks up head lice and captures them in a filter. It can also be used as a preventative to check for and pick up head lice before the eggs hatch.
As lice can live for up to two days away from its host it’s important to wash bed linen, clothing, hats and towels in warm water and then put in a hot dryer. Hair brushes, combes and hair accessories should also be washed in warm water.
Part of preventing the problem is letting your child’s school or daycare know that your child has contracted head lice. This allows other families to be notified so that they can check and treat their children if needed. If one child has lice, a thorough check of all other children’s scalps is necessary if living in the same household. A tea tree shampoo or a hair spray with tea tree and lavender oil can be used as preventative measures if needed.
Feldmeier H. Pediculosis captitis: new insights into epidemiology, diagnosis and treatment. Eur J Clin Microbiol Infect Dis. 2012 Sep;31(9):2105-10
Barker SC, Altman PM. An ex vivo, assessor blind, randomised, parallel group, comparative efficacy trial of the ovicidal activity of three pediculicides after a single application –melaleuca oil and lavender oil, eucalyptus oil and lemon tea tree oil, and a “suffocation” pediculicide. BMC Dermatol. 2011 Aug 24;11:14
Barker SC, Altman PM. A randomised, assessor blind, parallel group comparative efficacy trial of three products for the treatment of head lice in children--melaleuca oil and lavender oil, pyrethrins and piperonyl butoxide, and a "suffocation" product. BMC Dermatol. 2010 Aug 20;10:6