We are sometimes asked why it’s important to treat head lice rather than letting the problem run its course. Trust us, there are plenty of reasons to tackle an infestation and not let it fester and grow.
If you’re someone who has had head lice and remembers the itching, you’ll probably wonder why anyone would consider leaving head lice untreated. But some people actually don’t get a reaction to the bites, and therefore don’t feel the itching. When they realise they have head lice it is usually when the infestation has multiplied and becomes very noticable.
It is never advisable to ignore or just just leave a head lice infestation untreated as it will continue to multiply and transfer and transfer to others in the family or in your circle of friends.
Will head lice go away without treatment?
In a word – no. Head lice won’t die off on their own, they won’t disappear or move on. All they will do is breed and multiply, until you’re left with a heavy infestation that needs a lot of time, effort, and professional help to resolve.
A head louse lives for 30 days. They lay up to 10 nits each day, which hatch, grow up, and start laying eggs a couple of weeks later. If you only take one day of laying, one adult female louse creates up to 10 more. Within her lifetime, which is 30 days, an adult female can create up to 300 offspring. And that’s the damage created by only one louse – when those eggs hatch, grow up, mate and lay their own eggs day after day, the infestation will get more and more serious… As you can imagine, these numbers start to get out of hand very quickly.
Soon the infestation will become visible, not just when doing a thorough check of the hair, but to people who aren’t looking too closely. With so many lice laying their eggs, the nits themselves start to become a lot more visible. The eggs or nits are laid near to the root of the hair and are glued on. As the hair grows and more eggs are laid, there are then eggs further down the hair shaft. With heavy, long term infestations there can be eggs 3 or 4 inches down the hair.
Untreated head lice complications
Apart from the fact that they won’t go away on their own, there are lots of reasons you should be treating any infestation. Head lice carry a lot of bacteria and they feed off your blood, so there are plenty of unpleasant consequences to an infestation:
- School policies – many schools struggle with infestations in the classroom and how they can upset the children and the parents. Whilst in the UK children are not generally excluded from school, if their lice are untreated it can become an issue that a school will have to insist a parent addresses. Not treating nits in a timely manner is cause for concern, too, and many schools look out for untreated nit infestations as an indicator of neglect.
- Social ostracism and bullying – social exclusion, bullying and avoidance by their peers are sometimes risks for children with head lice. This only gets worse when an infestation becomes a heavy one and other children can visibly see the severity of an untreated infestation. Despite the fact that head lice do not relate to cleanliness, an untreated case will certainly be looked at with concern, and even disgust.
- Discomfort – 53% of people don’t itch with head lice, often until the infestation is quite substantial. Those who do itch are reacting to the saliva the louse injects when it feeds. Untreated infestations quickly become unbearable as the numbers of lice, and therefore bites, increases exponentially. People can also get raised, red bumps on the back of their neck, which can be very irritating.
- Disturbed sleep – itching from head lice at night disturbs that deep sleep that is so good for healthy development in children. Disturbed sleep can lead to an irritable child with issues concentrating and focussing on their school work. When an infestation goes untreated or not cleared then that sleep disruption gets worse, even severe.
- Infections – repeated itching and scratching can create breaks in the skin of the scalp, which are then at risk of infection. With an infection comes further discomfort and problems. Cuts, scabs and infection all are problematic to deal with when nit combing, making it very hard to clear an infestation.
- Feeling lousy – we all use this phrase at some point to describe when we feel under the weather. This phrase actually comes from how head lice can make you feel. Low level flu like symptoms, feeling under the weather, looking pale and drawn – all of these are physical effects that having a head lice infestation can cause.
While lice may be generally harmless – apart from the obvious issues – leaving them untreated should never be an option. The consequences above are individually difficult to deal with, and the longer an infestation goes untreated, the more complications and issues will arise, and the worse each will get.
Clearing a heavy nit infestation
If a head lice infestation has reached the severe stage, it can be extremely difficult to resolve without professional assistance.
More than likely a person will have used all the head lice treatments on the market to clear it and still they will be finding lice and eggs. None of the chemical treatments are up to handling a truly heavy infestation – there’s a risk that they won’t clear everything at the best of times, and this risk is massively increased when there’s a heavier load. If eggs are left behind, the whole cycle starts again once they hatch, grow up and start laying again. You need to get all the backlog of eggs out of the hair as well as the lice.
Chemical treatments are also not an option if scratching has led to broken skin – not only is it not advisable to get these products in an open wound, it would also be extremely painful. The head lice treatments aren’t going to get the build-up of eggs out of the hair for you – in fact they will hinder that, making it harder to remove them.
Home remedies are ineffective at the best of times, and very unlikely to have any effect at all during a severe infestation. The only element of home remedies that works is the manual combing portion – it doesn’t make a difference if you use essential oils or listerine or olive oil. Plus, adding those to broken skin is, again, very painful.
The only way forward is to clear every hair manually. This is time consuming and requires good eyesight, good lighting, and a lot of patience. Not just patience from you, but patience from your child, too – they’re the ones who have to sit calmly while their hair is conditioned, sectioned, and methodically combed. We recommend putting on a DVD or letting them play a games console, to help keep them distracted.
As it’s almost impossible for most people to clear every individual hair in one go, without professional support. You need to keep at the nit combing routine every single day until every single louse and nit is eradicated, and then continue for at least a couple of weeks to be certain. After that, weekly checks should help you tackle anything you might have missed, or any new infestations, before they have chance to become severe.