Lice are tiny, wingless insects that live on the scalp and lay eggs on hair strands. They are tiny parasites “that feed on blood several times during their development,” says the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Lice have been plaguing humans since ancient times. For example, a 3-year-old girl with lice was found mummified in Egypt, while some Native American tribes used infested combs as necklaces. However, there is one surprising way to get rid of lice that have made its rounds recently on Twitter: straightening your hair with a flat iron or curling it with hot rollers.
“I always assumed the iron would burn the lice to death,” one person wrote on Twitter. “But I’m going to sleep with a straightener tonight, just to be sure.” Other people shared similar sentiments:
On Facebook…that if you use a hair straightener for five minutes it kills all the lice immediately…I don’t know if this will work or not but I’m curious!”
In fact, many sites have claimed that heat from appliances such as hot rollers and flat irons can kill live lice. But could they really fry tiny bugs? Or is this another old wife’s tale? We asked entomologists (the scientists who study insects) what happens when you try to fry a louse.
What are lice and how does it spread?
Head lice are tiny bugs that live on the human head. They attach their eggs (called nits) to hairs near the scalp, where they lay up to ten at a time. There are three species of louse, which vary in color from pale gray or tan to dark brown. Only one species can infest humans, however, and it is found worldwide.
“Lice spend about 90% of their life cycle attached to a human host,” said Coby Schal , an entomologist at North Carolina State University. “It’s an important part of their lifecycle because that’s when they mate and lay eggs.” Once they’re off the scalp, though, lice die within 24 hours without another warm body to jump onto.
Louse-to-human transmission occurs through direct contact — such as a child playing with a friend who has lice, or sleeping in the same bed with someone who is infested. Lice can’t fly or crawl very far, so it’s highly unlikely that they’d jump from a surface to a human head.
“Nobody knows exactly how long lice have been around,” Schal said. But scientists do have evidence of prehistoric lice. In 2005, researchers found fossilized louse specimens under rock slabs from an ancient cave site in France. The fossils were estimated to be 100,000 years old and similar to modern varieties, according to study coauthor Mary Higby Schweitzer of North Carolina State.
How to identify if your child has lice?
The head and neck is the most frequent area to get lice, but they can spread anywhere on the body (including eyebrows and lashes). You may see small white specks in your child’s hair that resemble dandruff. These specks are actually nits — eggs laid by adult female lice. Nits look like tiny seeds glued onto the base of a strand of hair close to the scalp.
They take about one week to hatch and will begin looking for blood within 24 hours after hatching. After feeding, the nit will turn into a brown-colored shell called a pupa, or “naked” here since it no longer has an outer shell. Any exposed nit shells should be removed with fine-tooth combs, not shared clothing or brushes.
Note: do NOT use nail clippers to remove nits. They are too close to the scalp and you could cut your child’s head.
Adult lice are usually 1/8 inch long, grayish-white, wingless insects that look like small crabs when magnified. This type of louse is sometimes referred to as a “crab” because it looks like one before it gets an egg sac. Adult lice prefer the scalp but may be found on any hair on the body (eyebrows included). Their eggs are called nits and look like tiny white dots attached by a thin strand of hair close to the scalp. Once they hatch, their remains will be hard, empty shells that are brown.
The best tools to use are fine-pointed tweezers or a lice comb with very narrow teeth. You can find them in pharmacies, drugstores, or other stores where you buy medicines and personal items for the whole family. If you own one, look at the comb’s package for tips on how to use it properly so as not to waste time and money without getting results. However, should you choose to remove them by hand first, simply take a fine-toothed metal hair comb (the plastic ones damage your hair) and go over every part of the hair strand until you reach the scalp skin.
The importance of checking for head lice in adults as well:
It is very difficult to check for head lice in your own hair, mostly because you cannot see them all. It requires the help of another person. The whole process can be done within 30 minutes to an hour, depending on how long your hair is and if there are any tangles or knots that need to be combed or detangled first. You might want to wear an old shirt so you don’t ruin anything nice with bloodstains should you accidentally prick yourself with either the fine-pointed tweezers or metal hair comb.
After finding one head louse, it’s smart to check for more until you’re sure that the problem has been solved. However, this doesn’t always end up being necessary. It depends on how well you followed the instructions in your treatment. And, if it does turn out that there are still some head lice hanging around, you probably won’t find them all either. You need to continue checking for two weeks even though you’ve finished all of the necessary steps because 10% of the female head lice can lay eggs within one day after mating and they will start hatching after about 9 days. Then, you’ll have to repeat your treatment just as if you hadn’t done it before.
The information above is specific to people who live in houses with plumbing that’s connected to a municipal sewage system.
How to tell if your child has head lice?
The easiest way to find out if a child has head lice is by looking. After all, this generation of kids is going to have a lot more experience with LiceBusters than I had when I was growing up!
There are also some other things you can look for: * the nits (head lice eggs) are white and less than 1/8″ long; * the nits sometimes appear as yellowish specs on hair strands; * the nits do not move; * you might see little black dots stuck on hair shafts, but these aren’t necessarily head lice – they’re called “fecal spots” and they indicate that your child has been scratching; and * adults will sit right on top of hair shafts, where nits are found.
The best time to look for head lice is at night or after a bath/shower because that’s when the adults will be active. You can also wash your child’s hair with shampoo and set it on very short rinse cycle so you don’t have to do any rinsing – this way you can see if any adults are swimming around in the water. But really, just by looking, you should be able to tell if there are adult head lice present. And, if needed, kids heads can be shaved! The only problem with shaving heads is that you might miss finding some young lice that haven’t quite reached maturity yet – but they’re still considered
When should you see a doctor for head lice?
A person should see a doctor if they think their child has head lice or nits from another person. A parent should take action as soon as they notice signs of head lice, because one way to prevent them from spreading is not sharing combs, brushes and hats with other people. If you have young kids that go to day care or preschool, then you might want to consider getting everyone in your family checked for head lice at the same time – after all, this will help prevent further spread.
If a parent thinks their child has head lice, it’s best to start by washing the hair with regular shampoo and drying it thoroughly so there’s no water left on the hair. The scalp should also be cleaned with a fine-tooth comb that’s been dipped in baby shampoo or warm water. It would also help to remove the nits from the hair by using a metal lice comb, but if you can’t see any nits then there’s no need for this step.
- Your child is probably not going to die if their hair has lice at your house or when they play with you – even if that’s every day.
- People with lice would rather have someone else deal with it.
- You may be able to use the process as a bonding experience for you and your child if they are old enough to understand what’s happening.
- There are chemicals involved in some of the products that are intended for this purpose.
- Please do not eat these products or put them on your skin over more than small areas of skin at any one time without checking first with a doctor or other health care professional that you trust to make sure that they are safe to use in those ways.
- Head lice can be difficult to get rid of even after following all of the suggested treatments correctly.
- Even if you give up because you’ve tried everything else under the sun, all but the most persistent head lice are gone in about a week.
- You may want to try this again with another set of parents if the same family does not live near you.
- The chemicals involved in some treatments, including many household products, can cause respiratory problems for children who are younger than 2 years old or who have asthma , so these products should never be used on small children without checking first with a doctor .
- I hope this information is helpful.