The head louse is a tiny, wingless, unwelcome parasitic insect that makes its home among human hairs. These pests reproduce and lay their tiny eggs, or nits, on individual hairs. The diet of head lice consists of tiny amounts of blood that they draw from the scalp of a human host. Lice infestations are common, particularly among children who share the contagious little scourges with each other at school and day care. However, you can fight back, and this tried-and-true home remedy is extremely effective.

Head Lice Infestation

Adult head lice are about the size of a sesame seed, but not too small to observe scurrying around playing hide-and-seek among hairs. They may be gray, tan or whitish in color, and mature rapidly after they hatch, within a week or two. Lice require a diet of human blood and feed several times a day. However, they can live for up to two days off of the scalp. The itching may not come immediately following the initial invasion of lice. It may take several weeks for the bites to become noticeable to your child before he or she begins to itch. Your children may give you an early tip, however, complaining that it feels like there’s something crawling around on the head.

Head lice can’t jump or fly, but they do have specially adapted claws for crawling around and clinging firmly to hair shafts. They’re spread mainly by direct head-to-head contact, but can also be passed around by sharing infested bedding, clothing, hats, combs and brushes. The good news is that you can’t swap head lice back and forth with your pets.

Although head lice aren’t dangerous and they don’t spread any diseases, they are a pain. Their bites will cause your child’s scalp to become itchy, and the child will scratch and dig incessantly. This can lead to severe irritation, inflammation and even result in an infection.

Some kids are more sensitive to the lice bites than others. An infection is indicated by the presence of a tender red bumps and rash on the scalp, as well as oozing and crusting, perhaps accompanied by lymph gland swelling. If the infestation becomes this severe, your child needs to see a doctor.

Home Remedy for Nit Removal

Lice are the bane of many households, particularly those with children. But they’re manageable, because you can use medicated over-the-counter shampoos which are highly effective for killing lice when used correctly. Most of these preparations prescribe a follow-up treatment in seven to 10 days to kill newly hatching nits. This is because there’s no known chemical that will kill the eggs of head lice.

Don’t use cream rinse, conditioner, shampoo or other hair care product on the hair or scalp before using the medicated lice shampoo. These items will reduce or nullify the effectiveness of the lice treatment.

After shampooing as directed, you’ll need to painstakingly remove as many of the nits that remain as you can to reduce the numbers that will soon be hatching. And this has to be done by hand. The nits not only survive the chemicals, but adhere stubbornly to the hairs. They’re really sticky and well evolved for the task.

Use a fine-tooth comb, such as the one that usually comes with lice shampoo, to remove the nits from your child’s wet hair every three to four days for two weeks after you’ve seen the last live louse. It’s best to wet the hair and use conditioner on it before combing. Wetting will temporarily immobilize lice, and the conditioner will make it easier to penetrate the hair with the comb. The spaces between the teeth of the comb are tiny enough to snag the nits between them and pull them off of the hair shafts.

Don’t worry too much about expensive or elaborate efforts to kill the nits that you remove, because they won’t live long off of the scalp. Just pour a little rubbing alcohol in a cup and dump them into the alcohol as you remove them from the hair. Then, pour them down the toilet when you’re through.

Never use a hair dryer on your child’s hair following lice treatments, which can be flammable. Don’t wash the hair for two days following the treatment. Use a specific treatment product only three times on the same person. If it doesn’t seem to be working, switch to a different one. Never use more than a single product head lice product at any one time.

There are those who advocate smearing the scalp generously with mayonnaise, olive oil or petroleum jelly treatments, claiming that they smother or kill lice and nits. However, these haven’t been proven to be effective.

The Aftermath

You’ll need to treat your environment while treating your children to prevent as much re-infestation as possible. Lice and nits are now scattered all over your home, just itching to jump back onto a human blood meal.

Wash all clothing that’s recently been worn by anyone infested, as well as all household linens. Launder everything in hot water, at least 130 degrees F. Then, machine dry them on your hottest cycle for at least 30 minutes. Any items that aren’t washable need to be dry cleaned. Advise the cleaners of the lice infestation so that they can take the proper precautions on their end.

Soak every hair care item in the house in lice shampoo for an hour. This includes combs, brushes, headbands, hair ties, hair bumps and barrettes. If you don’t want to bother soaking them, discard them. Immediately secure the trash bag closed and get it out of the house.

Since lice can easily be shared among all members of the household, everyone should follow the same medicated shampoo treatments prescribed for the afflicted one. Carefully check everybody’s hair and scalp daily for signs of lice or nits during this period.

Instruct your children not to share personal items with anybody, including their clothing, towels and sports headgear. Talk to them about avoiding head-to-head contact with other children. Reassure your kids that they’ve done nothing wrong. Having head lice is not an indicator of poor hygiene or a lack of cleanliness. These bugs can be acquired by anyone at any time, no matter who you are, or how much or how little you bathe or clean your hair.

References and Resources

KidsHealth: About Head Lice and Nits