Effective, Chemical Free Head Lice Treatment using Melaleuca Oil
By Karen MacKenzie
It seems no sooner than you have said "back to school" and your child comes home infested with head lice (Pediculus humanus capitis). Why? Probably because it is estimated that 10-12 million children, in the United States alone, are affected each year. The number could even be much higher, because many cases are not reported to physicians, so there is no way of knowing for sure how many cases there actually are. According to Dr. Dirk M. Elston, M.D. from Geisinger Medical Center, Danville, PA, there is an epidemic of lice infestation, if not a pandemic, out there!1 And, the incidences of infestations, especially during the winter months, may be on the increase.2
Suffice to say, if you have children in school, you've probably dealt with at least one infestation of head lice. A few years ago, the outbreaks were blamed on the less fortunate of the population, but we now know that head lice are equally at home in any environment. Long hair, short hair, curly, frizzy, clean, greasy, you name it, those pesky creatures are not at all fussy. In fact, if you have hair they're happy! The good news is they cannot fly, jump, swim, pole-vault or hop. So, it is fairly difficult to become infested. They can, however, walk pretty fast! This is probably why elementary school children are the most likely to pass on a louse or two, because young children are quite tactile when interacting with each other. And, that's all it takes!
One fertilized female head louse can lay up to ten eggs per day, which are literally glued to the hair shaft near to the scalp, incubating in the warmth of the child's head. The eggs (nits) take about seven to ten days to hatch into the first nymph stage. It takes another seven to ten days for the head lice to pass through two more nymph stages and become capable of laying eggs.3,4 Adult head lice have a life span of approximately four weeks, but can only live a few hours if they become separated from the host child. Unfortunately, by the time the head starts to really itch, the infestation has already taken hold. Both nymphs and adults feed every few hours on the host's blood, and it is their saliva, and possibly a reaction to their feces that causes the itching. In some cases, a rash may appear on the scalp and around the neck area. With constant scratching, it can become infected. Fortunately, head lice have not been known to carry any major diseases. They are only an irritation and not a threat to the host.5
It is ironic that the main threat to the infested child seems to be from the organophosphate poisons used on the child's head to control the infestation!6 Over-the-counter and prescription treatments containing organophosphates such as Lindane7,8,9 and Malathion10 are bioaccumulative, which means the organophosphates accumulate in the body. The initial treatment may not cause a problem. But a lice infestation can occur several times a year and a child may have many treatments during the course of their school days. Conversely, it has been known for a child to have a very nasty reaction from just one application.10a Children are at greater risk of neurological poisoning due to their small size and immature immune systems. Some schools operate a "no nit policy" and your child can be sent home from school until they are completely free of lice and nits. The stigma can drive a parent to use these toxic poisons in an effort to get their child back into school. Even the treatments classed as less toxic such as the pyrethroids (e.g. permethrin and pyrethrin) can cause problems for susceptible people.11,12,13 But, it is more likely that they poison the child rather than the head lice! There are an increasing number of cases where the head lice are becoming resistant to these poisons.14,15
With all this in mind, parents can't be blamed for turning to the more unconventional treatments, and there are quite a few around, from combing a commercial brand of mouthwash through your hair to spreading lard on your head and donning a bath cap for three days (not something a child will easily do!). Therefore, it must be a comfort to know that Melaleuca oil16,17 is becoming a much more accepted treatment for head lice as more clinical studies are carried out. Both tepinen-4-ol 18 and cineole 1,8,19 the two major constituents in Melaleuca oil, have shown to help eradicate head lice.20
And, because cases of scabies in schools are on the increase too2 it is good that Melaleuca oil is an effective eradication treatment for scabies as well.21
Before I finish this article I would like to give you some experiential, rather than anecdotal, information for clearing a head lice infestation. Last year, I treated my daughter's hair by saturating it with Naturals Melaleuca Oil Shampoo for twelve minutes. She was quite squeamish at the thought of having a head full of dead and dying creatures, so I combed them out with a nit comb. Melaleuca Oil Shampoo also conditions the hair, so it really is not an inconvenience.22
About the Author
Karen MacKenzie is a recognized authority on melaleuca, having researched this amazing oil for over 12 years and written two books on the subject, in addition to various other books on complementary health.
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