Pallavi Nath sat down to give a head massage to her six-year-old daughter Akanksha. This was a ritual Pallavi had always followed on weekends before her daughter took a bath. But, what she discovered that day startled her. Lice had infested Akanksha's scalp and hair, which were causing the little girl a lot of discomfort.
Many parents of school-going children face this unique problem. So much so, that a study published by the Indian Dermatology Online Journal, estimated the prevalence of head lice infestation in India to be around 16.59 per cent, going as high as 59.7 per cent in some parts of the country.
So what are head lice and how can parents prevent the spread of this infestation? Here is what you need to know about head lice:
“Head lice are insects that cause an infestation in the hair and scalp, among all age groups. They are wingless, blood-sucking parasites, found on people's heads. They cause itching and scratching of the scalp,” says Dr Sudheendra Udbalker, a consultant dermatologist at Fortis Hospital, Bangalore.
- Head lice are small insects that can infest your child's hair and scalp. Head lice infestation is also called pediculosis. Their eggs, called nits, are even smaller.
- Symptoms of head lice include a tickling feeling in the hair, itching, scratching and sores.
- Children aged around 3-12 years are more likely to be affected by head lice, as they play together closely. Head lice cannot jump or fly, so they spread through head-to-head contact with an infected person.
- Lice can spread through clothing, headgear, hats, combs, hairbrushes and hair bands, so make sure your child does not share her belongings with others.
- Children with good personal hygiene can get head lice too. They can affect both girls and boys and the infestation does not depend on hair length or socio-economic status of the child.
- Itching on the scalp and neck is the most common symptom but, when your child has an infestation for the first time, itching may not occur for two to six weeks after infestation.
- The nits will look like tiny teardrops glued to the hair strand and will be difficult to dislodge.
- Children with lice infestation often have trouble sleeping, as the lice are most active in the dark. Constant scratching can cause a secondary bacterial infection.
- Some home remedies such as putting neem oil on the scalp or combing hair with a fine-toothed lice comb can help to some extent.
- Over-the-counter shampoos and creams are available to treat head lice. But, if the lice infestation is severe, or the child develops an infection after scratching, consult a dermatologist for medicated shampoos, lotion or hair rinse. For children below two years, avoid using medicated shampoos.
- Once you know that your child's hair is infested with head lice, wash his clothes in hot water. Wash your child's stuff toys to get rid of any lice. Dry the clothes out in the sun to kill the lice and nits.
- Cutting your child's hair short may help in tackling the problem.
- Wash or dry clean the pillow covers, bed linen, rugs, blankets and towels used by your child. Anyone with head lice should avoid sharing their personal belongings with others, to prevent spreading from one person to the other.
- If you have a vacuum cleaner at home, vacuum your sofas, beds, and rugs to remove any trace of lice.
- You can also keep your child's school informed about the infestation and ask them to take necessary action to prevent the spread of head lice.
- If the lice infestation is happening frequently, make sure to schedule a check-up with a dermatologist.
- Check your child’s head after she had a sleepover or stayed at a relative's place.
"Children should also be educated not to share combs, brushes, hair accessories, and towels. Once the lice are gone, parents must take precautions to ensure that their children do not get infested with lice again.” says Dr Sudheendra.
Having lice in the hair is not just uncomfortable, but embarrassing for your child. If your child has head lice, be patient and help her get rid of them.
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