If you’ve never dealt with head lice before, it’s hard to know when you (or a loved one) are experiencing an infestation. Because 50 percent of individuals suffering from head lice don’t exhibit noticeable symptoms, it’s possible to get head lice and live with them for weeks without realizing it at all! To combat misinformation and equip you with the knowledge you’ll need to handle a case of head lice, here are the facts you need to know:
Lice cannot jump, fly, or swim. This means they are spread almost exclusively through direct head-to-head contact. Lice and their eggs also cannot survive off a human head for longer than 24-48 hours, so the chance of being infected from your seat on an airplane or in a theater is low. Head lice have evolved to live strictly on human heads, meaning you won’t find them on your pets or stuffed animals.
Lice live on children and adults, on dirty and clean hair alike. It’s a myth that clean hair has less risk of contracting head lice, or that individuals with head lice are dirty or unhygienic. And while children typically get t head lice the most, any adult who makes head-to-head contact with an infested individual can get lice as well. Unfortunately, it isn’t possible to shampoo away a lice infestation—lice can hold their breath for several hours, and nits are bonded to the hair shaft by an extremely strong glue that shampoos can’t remove.
Lice are small and fast, making them tough to spot. If you have found nits in an infested individual’s hair but no live bugs, it is still possible for the infestation to be active. Be sure to check the “hot spots” of the scalp, where lice and nits are most commonly found: the nape of the neck, along the hairline, and behind the ears. Adult lice are about the size of a sesame seed and are typically dark brown in color. Nits can be brown or tan and are located about half an inch from the base of the hair shaft. If you find nits in the hair that are farther away than half an inch from the scalp, it’s likely just a shell that was left behind from when the louse hatched.
Combing and finding nits or bugs—not just feeling itchy—is the only way to confirm a lice infestation. An itchy scalp can mean several things, and therefore is not a guarantee that an individual has lice. What someone swears is a case of head lice can simply be bad dandruff. This is why combing the hair, and finding nits or live bugs on the head, is the only way to know for sure if it’s a case of head lice. During a combing session, you can fan the teeth of the comb out over a cup of water after each pass. If you removed nits, they will float; if you removed dandruff flakes, they will sink.
Heated air is an effective form of lice treatment. Because home remedies, prescription treatments, and over-the-counter products can have inconsistent success rates, which can often require multiple treatments over several weeks, sufferers of head lice and their loved ones should opt for a heated-air treatment by a certified technician using AirAllé. The AirAllé device was created by a scientist after it was discovered that concentrated heated air can kill both lice and nits. Its patented FDA-cleared technology kills lice and 99.2 percent of eggs. Performed in more than 300 clinics worldwide, treatments with the AirAllé device are guaranteed to eliminate head lice.
For more information on the science behind the AirAllé device, visit https://www.liceclinicsofamerica.com/airalle-professional-lice-treatment/. You can also find and book an appointment at a Lice Clinics of America location near you via this link.
Reviewed by Dr. Krista Lauer for accuracy.