Everything You Need To Know About Head Lice

At the Hairforce we get asked many questions about head lice and how to treat them effectively every day. The Hairforce have been clearing nits and head lice professionally since 2006, so our expertise comes from our extensive and intimate knowledge of working with them day in and day out.

Our professional expertise means that we can answer all the questions about head lice you may have. Read on for comprehensive head lice information specifically included for parents.

What is the difference between a nit and an egg?

They are the same thing. A nit is the egg that a head louse lays.

How do you get head lice?

Head lice spread through close personal contact from one person to another. Generally, this means that someone who doesn’t have head lice would have to have close contact with an infected person to get head lice. Their preferred method of transfer is when the hair touches hair.  When that happens the louse crawls quickly across. 

They have six legs with a serious claw at the end of each leg which allows them to lock onto the hair.  They move quickly – 23 cm in a minute, so they can transfer swiftly and shimmy up the hair shaft to the safety of the scalp.
 
To protect the hair from touching others we recommend to our clients that if their child’s hair is long enough, they need to wear it back around their friends and at school.  Ideally in a ponytail and then plait the ponytail. Other ways of catching head lice are through sharing personal items such as combs, brushes, towels and hats, which can all lead to a head lice infestation.

What colour are nit eggs?

The nit, or the egg absorbs the colour of your hair as it develops, giving it the ability to camouflage itself in the hair. When the egg is laid by the louse they are invisible sacks of liquid and it is only as the embryo develops do they take on any kind of colour. 

They are usually a golden brown colour but can appear lighter or darker according to the hair colour.  Empty eggs are the white ones, so these are after the eggs have hatched.

Where do lice live when not on humans?

Head lice can only live for a significant time if they are on a human as they need to feed on human blood. They are a human parasite so they cannot live on a pet.  Once off the head the adult lice can live for between 24 to 48 hours. 

So, we advise our clients to change the bedsheets, hoover the sofa, change the towels and whatever is worn in bed and hoover any coats or hats being used when they have been cleared by us. This way if anything has crawled off it is eliminated and doesn’t have the opportunity to crawl back on.

Can head lice live on pillows and sheets?

Head lice do and can crawl off an infected head.  They are effectively mating with their siblings (they are genetically locked, so this doesn’t degrade them), so there is a motivation to broaden their horizons.  Head lice can therefore crawl off onto a pillow, the bed sheets, the sofa, your coat or hat.

If head lice are left behind (i.e., on a pillow or a bed sheet), it’s highly probable that another individual who places their head in that area can get head lice as they will look to crawl on to feed.

How long can you have lice before noticing?

Normally head lice infestations are discovered early on because of the itching they can cause. However, it is important to know that 53% of people are asymptomatic, which means they will not itch.

What makes a person itch is an allergic reaction to the saliva the louse injects when it feeds. In this saliva is an anti-collagulant which ensures that the blood flows nicely for them as they feed.  If you aren’t allergic to it then you don’t itch. So itching is a good early warning mechanism for finding an infestation. 

Itching only occurs due to the lice feeding so the eggs or nits do not cause any itching, it’s only after they hatch that occurs. Particularly sensitive people are alerted quickly by a single louse feeding, for others it takes time as the numbers increase, and for the truly asymptomatic they only know when a fair bit of hatching has occurred, and they see the lice crawling.  

Discovering an infestation of head lice can therefore take hours, a day or two, or even weeks. Every case is different. If there are only a few lice and nits on the head, the infestation is probably new and fresh. 

If a person has lots of lice and nit eggs, that person has probably had a lice infestation for a while. This is why at the Hairforce we recommend people regularly check their children so you can ensure you discover a head lice infestation quickly before it spreads and becomes a big infestation.

How can we tell if the louse or the nit is alive or dead?

The head lice will be crawling if alive and you are disturbing it.  Head lice are movement sensitive so as you part the hair they will scurry away.  When they are conserving energy, they can be very still. However, a dead nit or egg is either white or flat and dry. A healthy nit is plump and golden light or dark brown in colour, often determined by the hair colour itself.

On average, what is the number of nits a louse can lay?

A female adult louse lays up to 10 eggs a day and continues to do this for up to 30 days.  Each female adult louse lays up to 300 eggs in her lifetime – exhausting! To become an adult the louse must first go through a 9 to 12-day development cycle.  

During this period the louse is without a sex. Only on day 10 to 13 do they become a fully fledged adult louse and then become either a female or a male.  The female louse is the dominant sex in the species and there are more of them than males.

What is the average number of lice found on an infested person’s head?

An average infestation has between 5 and 20 head lice and up to 100 eggs.

I have heard that afro Caribbean hair doesn’t get infested with head lice. How true is that?

Afro Caribbean hair has a different shaped hair shaft and therefore a differently adapted head louse from that region. Mixed race hair on the other hand is susceptible to head lice in this country.

Will shaving my child’s head help?

Shaving your child’s hair is one way of approaching the issue but be warned you still need to nit comb the hair stubble as head lice lay their eggs very close to the root of the hair – you will be surprised what you can find even on a cm of hair.

If you don’t remove those eggs they will hatch and off goes the infestation again.  It is usually more difficult to shave your daughter’s hair – that can have rather more serious social effects. At the Hairforce we advise that you nit comb out the infestation and then get the hair cut to a more manageable length if the hair is long – bearing in mind you will want to be able to tie it back to protect it at school and around their friends. 

Do nits like clean hair?

Contrary to popular belief, head lice do not prefer either clean or dirty hair.  It is a total myth that head lice are a cleanliness issue. Head lice do not discriminate at all. Hair is a warm, secure hiding place for them whether it is clean or dirty.  

What head lice are interested in is human blood and particularly in high blood sugar levels.  Often in a family there can be a child that ALWAYS gets head lice, whereas the others much less so. It can be because that child is particularly fond of apple juice or eats lots of fruit and sweets. Cut down on those as it will help to make them less attractive to head lice.

Will my pets get my head lice too? Can head lice live on dogs?

Your pets will not catch head lice from you. Human head lice cannot survive off animal blood as its composition is different from human blood.

Can I see head lice jumping on the child’s head?

Head lice cannot jump or fly. They simply walk very quickly – up to 23cm in a minute. People swear they jump – they don’t. If you comb the hair dry, without applying a conditioner and use a metal nit comb then you will build up static energy in the hair and that may propel a louse, making it look like it is flying.

How long do head lice live?

Too long! An adult louse lives for up to thirty days so you need to get it out. The female only needs to mate once and so over that 30 days can do a lot of damage.

Will everyone feel an itchy scalp from lice?

Not everyone will feel itchy with head lice. It is the saliva of the louse that makes some people itch if they are allergic to it. If you aren’t allergic to the saliva you won’t itch.

How long do nits take to hatch?

The eggs take between seven and eleven days to mature and hatch, although this extends when the infestation is heavy and /or long term to 13 to 15 days.

What do head lice look like?

Head lice are small brown insects with six legs. Adult head lice are about the size of a sesame seed. They can get quite black looking as the blood oxidizes. The NHS have some pictures that can help you identify head lice.

How long can you have lice before noticing?

This can vary according to how sensitive you are.  If you are sensitive to their salvia, which they inject as they feed, then you will itch and that more than often will prompt you to look.  

If you aren’t sensitive to them then it is usually when a louse drops out of the hair, can be seen crawling or the eggs become visible in the hair.  At the Hairforce we recommend that you do regular checking with conditioner and a nit comb, so through that, you will pick up on anything in the hair quickly before a full blown infestation takes hold.

Do head lice live on other parts of the body?

Head lice live only on the head of hair of a person. Their safe habitat is the hair and that is ideally where they want to be.  There are other types of lice that live on other parts of the body – pubic and body lice. If you think you have either of these, you must go straight to the doctors for diagnosis and treatment. The Hairforce only specialise in head lice!

How can I tell if it is a nit or if it is dandruff?

The nits, or eggs are tear-dropped shaped and really glued onto the hair shaft. You will have to pull them off with your fingernails. A good way of checking if what you find is an egg or not is to see if it moves easily if you either blow on it or brush it with the tip of your finger or the end of a tail comb. If it doesn’t and it appears tear-dropped shaped, then it is probably an egg. Pull it off with your nails and examine its shape. If it is dandruff it will slide off the hair easily, if it is a nit then as we have said, it will be much harder to remove, and resistant to movement.  

There are some excretions that come from the hair follicle that can be mistaken for nits.  Hair casts are tubular, white and are wrapped around the hair shaft. These pull off the hair easily with the pads of your fingers. There are also smooth, round protein balls, which are cream in colour, and which are mobile, so not glued to anything. These natural excretions are nothing to do with head lice.

Do nits transfer from person to person?

It is only the lice that can transfer from person to person. The nits, or eggs are glued onto the hair so they can safely develop and hatch.  

At the Hairforce we do however recommend that you clean the hair brushes when you find an infestation because if hairs in the hairbrush have eggs attached to them, those eggs can still hatch.

If an egg hatches and you brush your hair with that brush, the baby louse (if there is one) or lice (if there is more than one) can be transferred. If a nit is detached from the hair the egg is no longer attached to its source of nourishment, so it cannot and will not hatch.

Doesn’t hair dye kill the lice?

No, it doesn’t. Head lice have evolved around serious chemicals, so hair dye is a breeze. 

Should I get new pillows or a mattress if I find head lice?

Head lice cannot live in inanimate objects so they cannot live in your mattress or pillow.  They will die within 24 to 48 hours if they do not get a blood meal. What they do is sit on the pillowcase or sheets waiting for a human being to get back into bed and then they crawl up back onto the head and into the hair to snuggle down, feed and lay their eggs – and this is why you need to change the sheets and pillow-case after you have given the hair a clear out.

Call us today to get expert head lice removal assistance.

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