Lice are small bugs that live in the hair or body of humans and feed off their blood. Their bites cause inflammation and itchiness. People with lice may be unable to help themselves from scratching at these bites, but doing so can lead to skin irritation and infection. This condition is also highly contagious.
Three types of lice exist. Head lice are the most common, and live in the hair of the scalp. Body lice live on the body, clothes or bedding of infected individuals, and are most common in those who aren't able to bathe or do laundry regularly. Pubic lice, sometimes referred to as crabs, often live in the pubic hair, but on rare occasions may travel to the hair of the chest, eyebrows or eyelashes, according to the Mayo Clinic.
Many people feel a mild tingling sensation or the sense of movement first, and these feelings intensify as the lice reproduce and multiply. The excessive scratching that is typically associated with lice may not start until a person has already had the lice for several weeks, according to the Nemours Foundation. If the condition is not treated after scratching has started, many people will develop small, red bumps or sores from the scratching. Finally, the most concrete sign that a person has lice is the presence of the lice or nits in their hair or on their body.
People spread lice in several ways. Head-to-head or body-to-body contact and storing belongings in close proximity to an infected person are common ways people catch lice. Using contaminated furniture or personal belongings will spread this condition. Pubic lice is typically spread through sexual contact.
Checking for Lice
Checking for lice is a simple process. Using an adequate light source, take one section of hair and examine the roots for the presence of lice. Lice are gray or tan in color, and are approximately the same size as a sesame seed. Because lice move frequently, people should look not only for the insects themselves, but also for any signs of movement. Although spotting the actual lice is possible, people may find it easier to spot their eggs. People can find these eggs, also referred to as nits, firmly attached to individual strands of hair. While the nits resemble dandruff, they will not detach from the hair as easily as flakes of dandruff.
Some favorite spots for head lice are behind the ears and at the nape of the neck, so checking these areas first is wise, suggests the Nemours Foundation.
Confirming a case of lice can be tricky for some people. Those who suspect they or their child may have head lice but are unable to find the lice may want to consider having a doctor or other health care professional double-check for them.
People of all races, socio-economic classes and ages can catch lice. Catching lice does not mean a person is dirty; it simply means that they have been in direct contact with another person that has had lice.
Treatment of lice may depend upon the severity of the condition. Several over-the-counter products are available to treat lice, and these are usually the first option people will try. Each type of lice-removal product may work differently, so reading and following the directions carefully is crucial. If over-the-counter products do not work, a doctor can prescribe medications that may be more effective.
Regardless of whether people use an over-the-counter product or prescription medication to kill the lice, they must do several things around the house to prevent lice from recurring. This includes removing all lice and nits from bedding, clothing, carpet, furniture and personal items. The Mayo Clinic states that this step of treatment is typically much more challenging than removing the lice from the body, but is essential.
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