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  • Writer's pictureDr. Karuturi Subrahmanyam

Head lice

Head lice are tiny insects that live on the human scalp and feed on human blood. They are not a sign of poor hygiene or cleanliness, and they do not transmit any diseases. However, they can cause itching, irritation, and discomfort, and they can spread easily from person to person through close contact or sharing personal items.


Head lice are most common among children, especially those who attend school or daycare. They can affect anyone, regardless of age, gender, race, or hair type. Head lice are not related to body lice or pubic lice, which are different types of parasites that infest other parts of the body.


How to recognize head lice

The main symptom of head lice is itching on the scalp, especially behind the ears and at the back of the neck. The itching is caused by an allergic reaction to the saliva of the lice. Scratching can lead to redness, swelling, and infection of the skin.


To check for head lice, you need to look closely at the scalp and hair. You may need a fine-toothed comb, a magnifying glass, or a bright light to help you see better. You may find one or more of the following:

  • Lice: Lice are about the size of a sesame seed and have six legs. They are usually grayish-brown in color, but they can vary depending on the hair color of the host. They move quickly and avoid light, so they may be hard to spot.

  • Nits: Nits are the eggs of the lice. They are oval-shaped and white or yellow in color. They are attached firmly to the hair shaft near the scalp, and they do not come off easily. They may look like dandruff or dirt, but they cannot be brushed or shaken off.

  • Hatched nits: Hatched nits are empty shells of nits that have already hatched. They are lighter in color and farther away from the scalp than nits. They may look like flakes or beads on the hair.


How to treat head lice

If you or your child has head lice, you need to treat them as soon as possible to prevent them from spreading to others. There are different methods of treatment available, such as:

  • Over-the-counter (OTC) products: OTC products are shampoos, lotions, or sprays that contain chemicals that kill lice and nits. You can buy them at pharmacies or supermarkets without a prescription. You need to follow the instructions carefully and repeat the treatment after 7 to 10 days to make sure all the lice and nits are gone.

  • Prescription products: Prescription products are similar to OTC products, but they contain stronger chemicals that may be more effective against resistant strains of lice. You need a doctor’s prescription to get them. You also need to follow the instructions carefully and repeat the treatment after 7 to 10 days.

  • Home remedies: Home remedies are natural or alternative methods that some people use to try to get rid of head lice. Some examples are vinegar, olive oil, mayonnaise, tea tree oil, or coconut oil. However, there is little or no scientific evidence that these methods work, and they may be messy, smelly, or harmful.

  • Manual removal: Manual removal is the process of combing out the lice and nits with a fine-toothed comb. This method can be used alone or in combination with other methods. It is time-consuming and requires patience and diligence. You need to comb the hair section by section several times a day for at least two weeks.


Natural home remedies for head lice

Here are some of the natural home remedies that may help you get rid of head lice:

  • Vinegar: Vinegar is a common household product that can help loosen the glue that attaches the eggs (nits) to the hair shafts. This can make it easier to comb out the nits with a fine-toothed comb. To use vinegar, mix equal parts of vinegar and water and apply it to the hair and scalp. Leave it for 15 to 20 minutes, then rinse it off with warm water. Comb the hair thoroughly with a lice comb to remove the nits. Repeat this process every few days until there are no more nits.

  • Olive oil: Olive oil is another household product that can help suffocate the lice and prevent them from moving. Olive oil can also moisturize the scalp and hair and reduce the itching. To use olive oil, coat the hair and scalp with a generous amount of olive oil and cover it with a shower cap or plastic wrap. Leave it overnight or for at least eight hours, then wash it off with shampoo. Comb the hair carefully with a lice comb to remove the dead lice and nits. Repeat this process every week until there are no more lice or nits.

  • Coconut oil: Coconut oil is a natural oil that has antibacterial, antifungal, and antiviral properties. It can also help smother the lice and make the hair slippery and shiny. To use coconut oil, melt some coconut oil in a microwave or a saucepan and apply it to the hair and scalp. Massage it well and cover it with a shower cap or plastic wrap. Leave it for six to eight hours or overnight, then wash it off with shampoo. Comb the hair thoroughly with a lice comb to remove the dead lice and nits. Repeat this process every day for a week or until there are no more lice or nits.

  • Tea tree oil: Tea tree oil is an essential oil that has antiseptic, anti-inflammatory, and insecticidal properties. It can help kill the lice and soothe the scalp irritation. However, tea tree oil can also cause allergic reactions in some people, so it is important to do a patch test before using it. To use tea tree oil, mix 10 to 15 drops of tea tree oil with two tablespoons of olive oil or coconut oil and apply it to the hair and scalp. Leave it for 30 minutes, then rinse it off with warm water. Comb the hair carefully with a lice comb to remove the dead lice and nits. Repeat this process every day for a week or until there are no more lice or nits.

  • Mayonnaise: Mayonnaise is a food product that can help suffocate the lice and make them easier to remove. Mayonnaise can also condition the hair and make it smooth and shiny. To use mayonnaise, apply a thick layer of mayonnaise to the hair and scalp and cover it with a shower cap or plastic wrap. Leave it for two hours, then wash it off with shampoo. Comb the hair thoroughly with a lice comb to remove the dead lice and nits. Repeat this process every week until there are no more lice or nits.


These are some of the natural home remedies that may help you get rid of head lice. However, these remedies may not work for everyone or may not be enough to eliminate all the lice and nits. Therefore, it is important to check your hair regularly for signs of head lice and consult your doctor if you have any questions or concerns.


How to prevent head lice

The best way to prevent head lice is to avoid direct contact with someone who has them. You should also avoid sharing personal items such as hats, scarves, brushes, combs, hair accessories, pillows, towels, or headphones with someone who has them.


You should also check your own hair and your child’s hair regularly for signs of head lice, especially if there is an outbreak at school or daycare. If you find any lice or nits, you should notify your child’s school or daycare and anyone else who may have been in contact with them.

You should also wash your clothes, bedding, and other items that may have been exposed to head lice in hot water and dry them in high heat. You should also vacuum your carpets, furniture, and car seats thoroughly.

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