Head lice (Pediculus humanus capitis) are wingless insects that live in your hair, on the skin covering the scalp. They're small - about the size of a pen tip - with barbed legs to keep them securely on in your mane. They lay nine to ten eggs daily, attaching them to a hair shaft. Although their lifespan is only about 28 days, they can multiply swiftly. These parasitic insects are highly contagious and very difficult to kill, so early detection can help curtail the impact of the infection.
Persistent itching on the scalp is one of the first noticeable signs of head lice presence. The itching is caused by an allergy to lice bites. The lice feed on your blood from your scalp, and the saliva produced from this triggers an allergic reaction in many. For those with sensitive skin, the itching becomes noticeable sooner, but lice can be present for two to three weeks before the excessive itching begins.
Lice eggs, also called nits, are an obvious sign of lice infesting in the head. These are the size of a pinhead - yellow or tan empty shells glued to your hair. While many assume the eggs are dry skin, you can differentiate between the two by how difficult it is to remove the tine debris. Dry skin will fall off when the hair shaft is moved; nits must be pulled off the hair shaft with a bit of pressure. Adult lice choose your scalp for the warm temperature - if you've noticed nits in your hair, then there are adult lice present as well.
As the adult lice move around, you might be able to feel their presence. Lice have small barbs on their legs that allow them to hold on to the hairs on your head without falling off. As they travel, you'll feel barely noticeable movements, like goosebumps traveling across your scalp. Some people may be more sensitive to the movement than others - it's possible to have a full-blown lice infestation without feeling the insects moving on your scalp.
Lice are nocturnal parasites, ore active at night, with the feelings of movement and itching more prevalent. The constant stinging and itching in the scalp can reduce the overall quality of your sleep. Children, especially, are more susceptible to disrupted sleep as their hair tends to be finer and skin more sensitive. If you or your child are waking in the night, especially if your head is fiercely itching, then head lice could be the source.
An irresistible urge to scratch the scalp is one of the most uncomfortable symptoms of a lice infestation. The more you scratch, however, the worse the irritation gets - your fingernails spread the saliva from the lice around, making the infections worse. In addition, the dirt under your nails can infect the irritation on your scalp. If the scalp is not treated well in time, even after painful inflammation, it can make the infection worse.
A lice infestation can cause swollen lymph nodes accompanied by a low-grade fever. When the lice infestation is ignored for a longer period of time, it can lead to a staph infection. The infection from the bites on the head, as well as dirt spread from scratching with your fingernails, can cause your scalp to become irritated and infected fairly quickly. Undetected bites can result in a more severe allergic reaction, which causes the swollen lymph nodes. Your physician can prescribe an antibiotic which typically clears up the infection and swelling.
The persistent itching and scalp irritation from a lice infestation can have a noticeable effect on a person's mood. Itching, the feeling of lice crawling in your hair, and little bites can wear on you, making you more prone to irritability. When the bites become infected, the allergic reaction and swollen lymph nodes can cause fatigue and crankiness. When you sleep is disrupted by lice infestations, it exacerbates the moodiness.
The bites from dozens or hundreds of lice in your hair quickly break down the skin and cause open sores. The constant bleeding and irritation from soiled fingers increase the skin damage to your scalp. When checking your har, or your child's, look for small crusty sores, caused by fluid leaking from the bites. These can be treated with an over the counter anti-itch cream or hydrocortisone ointment. .Examining the scalp of your child can reveal any crusting or scabs before any lice actually infect the area. For those with longer hair, look for redness or swelling on the neck - this is another spot lice prefer.
If one person in a home contracts lice, there's a very high chance that the insects will transfer to the other residents. Treat the affected family member immediately, and check everyone else in the house - including yourself - with a fine-toothed comb, or one specially designed to remove lice and nits. Inspect everyone's scalp and make sure the problem gets caught immediately. Use of topical ointments and specially formulated shampoos can help get rid of lice problem.
Many children get lice infestations from school or sleepaway camp, as the proximity of children is quite high. Lice can be transferred from person to person through games, placing coats or hoods close together, or sharing hats. Many school districts require parental notification if one child in the class has lice. If your child brings home a nurse note, make sure to check them immediately. You may also notice some of these symptoms before a school's notification.
This site offers information designed for educational purposes only. You should not rely on any information on this site as a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, treatment, or as a substitute for, professional counseling care, advice, diagnosis, or treatment. If you have any concerns or questions about your health, you should always consult with a physician or other healthcare professional.