How to Identify Head Lice and Their Trails - Step To Health

How to Identify Head Lice and Their Trails

Identifying lice is the first step in fighting a lice infestation. Because of their small size, it is easy for them to escape from sight.
How to Identify Head Lice and Their Trails

Last update: 20 December, 2021

It’s essential to identify head lice, both to prevent them from appearing and to combat an infestation. Although the latter is very unpleasant, we have to say that it’s a very common situation.

Contrary to what many people think, these creatures don’t settle on the head due to a lack of hygiene. Anyone can catch them if they come into contact with someone who has them. That’s why it’s so important to learn how to identify head lice.

This problem is much more common among children. Once they appear, it isn’t easy to get rid of them.

How to identify head lice?

In principle, the best way to identify head lice is to know what they look like. They’re insects about the size of a sesame seed, and range in color from brownish to whitish. They don’t fly or jump, but crawl.

Lice attach themselves to the skin of the scalp. However, they also move very fast, so they’re easy to lose sight of. They have 6 legs that end in small claws. The females, which lay the eggs, are a little bulkier than the males.

The best way to identify lice is to separate the hair into parts and use a strong light and a magnifying glass to detect them. It’s not easy, but with a little expertise, you’ll be able to do it.

The life cycle of lice

It’s usual for a louse to lay 8 to 10 eggs a day. These take between 7 and 12 days to hatch and out come the young, which are the size of the head of a pin.

In a few days, these animals are ready to mate and thus begin a new cycle. The life span of each louse is between 3 and 4 weeks.

How to identify head lice.
The shape of the lice is characteristic, but you need a magnifying glass to see them well on the scalp.

What is a nit and how can you recognize it?

The eggs of lice are known by the name of nits. Nits are usually easier to spot than head lice, as head lice are very quick and know how to hide.

Nits are oval-shaped and white to yellowish in color. They’re located on the sides of the hair shafts. Some of them are inactive, either because they’re just shells or because they contain a dead louse.

In many cases, nits are mistaken for dandruff or scabs. The best thing to do is to lift a strand of hair from the scalp. If it’s dandruff, it will come off. If not, it will cling to the hair shaft.

It’s common for there to be a greater number behind the ears and in the nape of the neck area.

Signs of lice on the head

An infestation can be detected according to the effects it produces on the affected person. Consequently, it’s very important to watch for the following signs:

  • A tingling sensation on the head
  • Frequent itching of the scalp
  • Increased tingling and itching at night, as lice are more active in the dark
  • Sores on the head caused by scratching – these can become badly infected.

If the above signs are present, the most advisable thing to do is to check the scalp carefully to identify the head lice. When nits are scarce, it means that an infestation hasn’t yet occurred in the strict sense.

A child with head lice.
Frequent head scratching in a child should make you suspect the presence of head lice.

Preventing head lice

Lice are most commonly spread by head-to-head contact. This is why they’re most common in young children, as they tend to have this type of contact in their play.

Also, head lice can be acquired when the head comes into contact with clothing or items that have lice on them, such as pillows and cushions. If you know that someone has an infestation, you should use a lice repellent. This isn’t infallible, but it can help.

Otherwise, the following recommendations are useful to prevent contagion:

  • Avoid head to head contact. Children in particular should be taught this.
  • Don’t share personal items, such as hats, combs, helmets, headphones, hair ties, and scarves.
  • Avoid lying on sofas, beds, rugs, or pillows that have been used by someone who has lice.
  • Check the heads of everyone in the house after identifying head lice on one person. This should be done every 3 to 4 days.
  • Wash all bedding and clothing of the infected person in hot water. Do the same with grooming products, such as combs and brushes.
  • Vacuum carpets and upholstered furniture in the house and car.
  • Any objects that have been in contact with the infected person can also be placed in a bag. This should be sealed for 7 days.
A mom checking her child's hair.
Periodic head checks are necessary in families that detect that one of the members is infected.

Be constant in the treatment

The first step is to identify the lice, but it can take a long time to remove them. The best thing to do is to use an over-the-counter treatment to combat these pesky little critters. It usually gives results, although it requires perseverance.

It’s very important to check the scalp and hair regularly and continuously, because, sometimes, with just a few nits left, the proliferation starts again. To fight it more effectively, it’s often best to get a hair cut.

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