Your child is back from school and he is scratching his scalp furiously. You think it might be head lice again, but you are not 100% sure… Discovering that their child has head lice is upsetting news for most parents!
Identifying head lice can be tricky but it is actually easy when you take the proper steps. You should first look for symptoms and then scrutinize your child’s scalp very carefully. Here are some tips to help you identify both head lice and their eggs.
Step 1: Don’t panic
This can seem odd but it is really an essential step in the process of identifying head lice. If you panic you’ll react emotionally and not rationally, and you might as well end up taking something benign for head lice.
Even if they do not transmit any disease, insects that live on the scalp usually inspire contempt, sometimes panic, and this is almost always embarrassing, as many people are still often associating head lice with dirt and poverty. However, anyone can be affected by head lice and lice actually prefer clean heads. So don’t panic, don’t feel ashamed, reassure your child that everything will be fine.
Step 2: Look for symptoms of head lice: repeated itching
The presence of head lice and their eggs is not always easy to detect because symptoms of lice are usually mild. The first warning sign is repeated scratching of certain areas of the scalp, particularly the neck, temples and around the ears.
Repeated itching is the first sign of an infestation. This is the reaction of the body to the saliva of head lice when they are feeding on our blood. Lice’s saliva is irritating because it contains an anticoagulant that causes an allergic reaction.
If the child is scratching his head a lot, and even if he’s not scratching his head at all but you received a warning from the school, the third step to know if you’re dealing with lice is to scrutinize the scalp to make sure that there are adult lice and lice eggs in the hair.
Step 3: Visual inspection of the hair
Scrutinizing the hair is essential though not always enough if you want to identify head lice properly.
- How to spot head lice:
Adult head lice are not easy to see, although they are easier to detect when moving. Put the child under good lighting conditions and use a head lice comb on wet hair, as this will enable you to spot head lice more easily.
Your priority should be to scrutinize the base of the hair in the most airy and moist areas of the head, such as the temples, the neck and around the ears. These are the main areas where female lice lay their eggs or nits, and this is where you should look for adult lice first.
- How to detect head lice eggs:
Lice eggs are not very easy to identify by simple visual inspection. You can use a special light, also called Wood’s lamp, that will make nits appear blue, but this device is pricey so you might as well ask your physician if he has one that you could use. Otherwise, just put your child under very good lighting conditions.
Then, try to spot the eggs near the scalp. There is a difference between a living nit and a dead nit, which is empty. If the nit has a caramel color, is bright and is located near the base of the hair within half a centimeter to one centimeter of the scalp, this is a live nit. If the nit is white and is located further from the scalp, it is an empty egg, meaning a dead nit, or a living egg but that will never hatch because the temperature away from the scalp is too cold.
These are the basics of how to identify head lice. Only the presence of live adult lice or live head lice eggs allows you to conclude that a person is infested.
When a child has lice, all the other children but also adults in the family must be examined. Identifying head lice on other family members means they should be treated, too.