Know the Head Lice Life Cycle Before Starting The Treatments
Do you actually know the real lice life cycle and how long it can survive? A lot of parents feel frustrated when an entire course of head lice treatment is done with but the lice infestation persists. The first step in treating head lice is to understand the life cycle of lice and how one treatment is never enough to get rid of them completely. There could be a number of reasons for recurring infestation but the primary reason is head lice resistance. This article will discuss at length the life cycle of a typical head louse and what could be done to ensure that the treatment cycle at hand is successful.
What are head lice?
Parasitic by nature, head lice are tiny insects that solely rely on humans for their survival. They are about the size of a sesame seed. They attach themselves to human hair shafts with their sex legs that have claws to hold on. Head lice could also attach themselves to eyebrows and eyelashes if the infestation gets severe. They draw blood from the scalp that provides nourishment to their tiny wingless bodies.
According to an estimate by the Centers For Disease Control, head lice infestations occur in 6-12 million people every year and especially in children, aged 3-11 years. Head lice infestation is highly contagious and since children tend to stay in close proximity to each other in this age group, it becomes a vicious cycle that is hard to break.
The eggs of head lice are also called nits and they are white, pin-tip sized eggs that are laid on hair shafts. These eggs hatch six to ten days after being laid and they make head lice treatment a difficult task. While head lice can’t really jump or fly, they can be transferred from one head to another when there is close proximity and when things like hair brushes, hats, towels etc are shared.
It is an amazing fact that head lice can survive under water for up to 8 hours if the host but will not survive if they fall off their human host. A human scalp is their primary source of nutrition and they need to be in close contact to the scalp the entire course of their lives.
The basic lice life cycle of head lice
Since they are parasitic by nature, head lice draw their nutrition from the human scalp. They lay their eggs on the hair shafts at a distance of 1.5 cm from the scalp. Although the life expectancy of a head louse is not more than 5 weeks, a single female louse can lay up to 120 eggs in that short span of time.
The Lice life cycle of a head louse lasts for 33-35 days. The process begins with the laying of the eggs on the hair shafts, hatching of the eggs, maturation of the head lice into adults, mating and yet another laying of eggs. After laying eggs, the parent head lice die. The eggs that have been laid hatch in 6-10 days and the lice life cycle is continued unless the infestation is treated and prevented from further recurrence.
If a louse falls off the human scalp and is not in contact with a host for 6-24 hours, it will dehydrate and die.
There are three stages in the lice life cycle of head lice. These stages are:
The Egg stage
The eggs are also known as ova or nits. The eggs laid by the female lice attaches themselves to the hair shaft using a glue-like substance. The eggs get easily camouflaged in the child’s hair and blend in because of their color and size. The eggs hatch after 10 days of being laid. The most difficult part of the infestation is the fact that the eggs cannot be easily removed. You will need to carefully comb them out with a fine-toothed comb and even that might not help in some cases. The eggs resemble dandruff, sand or hairspray flakes and the presence of these could be mistaken for lice eggs.
The Nymph stage
The newly-hatched lice are called nymphs. These are hardly visible to the naked eye because of their size and color. The nymph takes about 12 days after hatching to turn into an adult and start mating. The size of a typical nymph ranges from 1.1-1.3 millimeters.
The Adult stage
Adult lice are capable of laying 4-10 eggs a day and this continues yet another generation of lice. The adults live for around 28 days and after laying eggs, the parent lice die. In the adult stage, a female louse can lay an average of 125 eggs. Mature lice grow up to an average of 2 millimeters and female lice are bigger in size than male lice.
Lice life Cycle and span on other objects
Head lice need a constant host in the form of a human scalp to be able to survive. Adult lice cannot survive for more than 24 hours on objects like carpets, clothing, furniture, hardwood floors, headphones, and other hair accessories. If you happen to come across lice in your home, you will need to isolate the area and wash those items within a span of 72 hours. You can choose to wash and sterilize the objects if they are waterproof.
Nits or lice eggs cannot survive without a human host. The human scalp provides just the right amount of warmth for incubation before hatching. As soon as they hatch, they need immediate nourishment from human blood. If nits fall off human hair, they will die even before they hatch.
Treating your lice-infested hair
Despite the fact that head lice life cycle has a short span of 40-50 days, they can jeopardize your daily activities and lifestyle to a good extent. While head lice cannot survive for more than 24 hours without a human host, they can travel from one head to another via shared personal accessories. This is why care should be taken to eradicate them at inception. Once they lay eggs, the nits will be hard to remove from the hair shafts and the vicious cycle of infestation will continue.
In order to eradicate them completely from your system, you need to break their life cycle. While starting a course of treatment, it should be kept in mind that the course has to be completed in order to break the lice life cycle or else it will not be effective at all.
Another thing that you need to remember is the fact that the first course of treatment may simply kill the lice but as long as the eggs are present, the infestation cannot be completely treated. It will require a second course of treatment and the eggs will need to be combed out if they don’t fall off by themselves.
If you happen to visit a doctor, he or she might prescribe you medicated shampoos to kill the adult lice and the eggs at the same time. Some of the popular shampoos are NIX, RID etc. These medicated shampoos might either include pyrethrins or pyerothroids. The shampoos containing the latter might not be as effective in treating lice any longer.
The other medicated shampoos that doctors refer could include malathion, benzyl alcohol, spinosad, ivermectin.
Medicated shampoos are safe to use on children over a year old and should be absolutely avoided in the ones that are less than two months old. You can speak to your doctor regarding a different course of treatment if your infant has a lice infestation.
Getting rid of lice from your home
When any one member of the household has a life infestation, chances are that the rest of the members are at a risk of getting the same. Moreover, your house might have areas where either lice or eggs have fallen of hair shafts. The Lice life cycle can survive up to 24 hours without drawing nutrition from human scalp and it is essential to wash and sanitize your furniture etc if you happen to notice lice in any area.
The most effective way to prevent lice from crawling on to a new host is to vacuum your furniture and upholstery frequently. If lice do not draw blood from a host for 24 hours, they will dehydrate and die.
You can wash bedding, linen, curtains, clothing, and stuffed toys in hot water and tumble dry on high heat so that the lice are killed in the process.
Natural ways to kill lice at home
If you want to put an end to the lice life cycle and prevent them from coming back, the most effective solution is a course of treatment recommended by the doctor. If you are looking for natural remedies, listed below are some of them.
A lot of people swear by wet combing when it comes to removing lice from the hair. It involves using a conditioner and combing out the hair with a fine-toothed comb. This is essentially done after a bath. Repeating this process every two to three days might help in drawing out both the lice and the eggs. This can be continued for two weeks till you don’t see lice anymore.
It is believed that smothering or suffocating lice with sticky substances can help their removal with a fine-toothed comb. Some of the products that could be applied to the hair are butter, mayonnaise, petroleum jelly, olive oil etc. Once it gets difficult for the lice to move away, you can use a comb and pull them out. Always perform this step under proper light.
While these home remedies could very well be effective, there is no guarantee that the lice won’t come back. You should also avoid using Vaseline or mayonnaise because they will get unnecessarily messy and cleaning up will get difficult.
- Essential oils
Although there is no scientific evidence behind the effectiveness of essential oils in the removal of head lice, some users have reported that they have benefited from their usage. However, before using essential oils, always test for allergic reactions. Put a small drop of essential oil on the skin and wait for 5-6 hours before using it. The oils that you could try using are: tea tree oil, lavender oil, neem oil, eucalyptus oil, aniseed oil etc.
Are you sure the lice are gone?
How would you be absolutely sure that the head lice are completely gone from your scalp? Treating head lice is stressful in itself and repeated courses of treatment might be required to ensure that they don’t come back. You will need to continuously check your child’s hair for a week or two after you don’t see any lice on her hair.
If your child does have inflammation or infestation after two weeks of medicated shampoos, she might need prescription medication.
Taking preventive measures
Putting an end to lice life cycle before they can lay more eggs and hatch is not enough. Even after all the lice are gone, you have the chances of a recurrence since children tend to play in close groups and might share personal accessories too. Listed below are some steps that could help avoid recurrences:
- Explain to your child how he/she needs to avoid close head contact with other children at school who might have lice.
- Let the school authorities know if you suspect any child with lice so that she can be sent back for a thorough treatment.
- Examine your child’s hair frequently and also find out if a lice infestation has been reported at school.
- Wash bed lines, clothes and towels in hot water and run them in the hot cycle of the dryer for 20 minutes to kill the lice.
- Thoroughly vacuum upholstery and furniture so that there is no chance of a single louse to be alive after falling off the human host.
- Keep pets clean and their hair trimmed. Although lice do not survive on other beings, they could irritate the skin of your pets.
- Keep your hair care products washed and dried. You can use hot water or soak them in alcohol if you are still unsure of the process.
Lice life cycle is not hard to break if you know the process and the hindrances that could come in between. It is simply about having patience for trial and error methods and to wait it out.