Do I have lice?! What the HELL are these bugs I found in my hair?
August 18, 2017 6:34 PM   Subscribe

I just got back from a vacation and for the past few days, every morning I have been noticing about 3-4 of these bugs in my hair. Are they lice? I don't think I'm particularly itchy, but I keep finding them in my hair every morning! What are they?! And if they are lice WTF do I do?!? [Picture Inside]

Here's a picture I was able to take of one of them:

Ironically, I work at an elementary school (that has been out for summer since June 30!) and I'm moving to a new place at the end of the month! How the hell do I get rid of whatever this is??!?!
posted by VirginiaPlain to Health & Fitness (33 answers total)
Bad news. Definitely lice. I would go to a clinic or doctor for help. There are types of lice which are becoming drug resistant.

Worth a trip to the dr.
posted by BarcelonaRed at 6:42 PM on August 18, 2017 [1 favorite]

Before going to the doctor old fashioned conditioner and nit comb may well be enough, repeat every third day - got to break the life cycle.
posted by koahiatamadl at 6:45 PM on August 18, 2017 [3 favorites]

It's a little hard to tell, but I'm gonna go with lice. One clue: when you take them out of your hair and put them on a surface, do they just...sit there? That's what lice do. They're not big movers.

Dealing with lice is among the easiest of all infestations.
-- Do the lice shampoo and combing now.
-- Strip your bed, wash everything in hot and dry in the dryer.
-- Do the same with towels, pillows, the clothes in your hamper, etc.
-- Don't forget any hats or scarves that have been in play recently.
-- Anything that can't go in hot water/dryer gets bagged for X amount of time -- google it. It's just a few days or a week or two.
-- Redo the shampoo per the instructions on the bottle.

Optional: shave your head now and then you don't need to do the shampoo/combing. #1 on a clipper will get you where you need to be.

You're done.
posted by BlahLaLa at 6:45 PM on August 18, 2017 [4 favorites]

One clue: when you take them out of your hair and put them on a surface, do they just...sit there? That's what lice do. They're not big movers.

When I take them out they actually crawl around and move.

Sigh, I wish I could shave my head, but I have an unfortunate headshape that prevents that!!

Do I bag everything in my house? I have lots of belongings, or just everything I touched/went on vacation with?

I don't have a lice comb at home, but I'm going to run to the nearest drugstore to buy one. Do I need to take any procedures in my car? I have fabric seats.
posted by VirginiaPlain at 6:49 PM on August 18, 2017

Terminator nit comb, available from Amazon, is the only really good nit comb out there.
posted by stormyteal at 6:50 PM on August 18, 2017 [3 favorites]

Are there any alternatives to that one? I'm in Canada and that comb is $21 + $6 shipping. I doubt it will get here for 2 weeks.
posted by VirginiaPlain at 6:53 PM on August 18, 2017

When my son had lice, we had the nits combed by a professional. If you go to a place with heat, it can basically be done in one trip.
posted by Nimmie Amee at 6:53 PM on August 18, 2017 [4 favorites]

No, you shouldn't have to bag everything in your house -- these aren't bedbugs, lice pretty much transfer from head to fabric (hat/clothes/pillow) to head and don't last long without moving quickly to a host. A couple days of covering/isolation is enough, as long as you don't keep reinfecting other humans.
posted by AzraelBrown at 6:58 PM on August 18, 2017 [5 favorites]

Check out this website.

The author, who used to run a lice service in Canada, says that repeated wet-combing with conditioned hair will do the trick. Each time you have to comb until you get to 100 strokes since you've found anything (lice or nits ); you repeat every few days until you've gone 2 weeks since you've last found anything, and then you're done. No need for the chemical shampoos or to do extra laundry. Worked for us...
posted by wyzewoman at 7:03 PM on August 18, 2017 [5 favorites]

A friend of mine defeated a bad lice infestation (everyone in the house had it) by using Listerine mouthwash. I don't know the details, but she swore by it. Common instructions are out there - it's worth a google. Good luck!
posted by jessicapierce at 7:24 PM on August 18, 2017

It's nowhere near as bad as bedbugs and you'll be absolutely fine. Get the shampoo and treat your head - your pharmacy should have it. Wash in hot water and dry at full heat all your bedding and/or bag anything that might spend time around your head. Sofa cushions and throws, hats, etc.

A quick google tells me that adult lice can live for only 24 hours without a human host. However you can't forget the eggs - they hatch in 7-10 days.

Here's the CDC Guidelines. It has a lot of stuff I forgot like putting your combs and brushes in hot water, and it has a break-down of the different OTC and prescription treatment options.

I had lice a few times when I was a kid - everyone's coats crowded together on the rack, switching seats for different classes, kids sharing combs etc. It was always frustrating - stinky shampoos, laundering all the bedding etc, but within a few days the worst is over and you're just monitoring the nits. I know you're probably freaking out a little bit right now but really, you've got this. It'll be okay.
posted by bunderful at 7:28 PM on August 18, 2017 [1 favorite]

Comb, comb, comb. Morning and night. If you don't have someone patient as hell to do this for you, google lice removal in your town. We did many rounds, and only combing with a fine tooth comb worked for us. No permethrin shampoo, nothing else. Eventually the local lice combing people stopped charging us, but it did go awaY.
posted by chesty_a_arthur at 7:34 PM on August 18, 2017

Okay, I just unpacked my suitcase and found several lice (I guess) at the bottom of it. What should I do with the suitcase?! It's too big for a plastic bag!

I put all my souviners and everything that was in the suitcase in a garbage bag, I'm about to wash all the clothes that were in it. I ran to Wal-Mart and bought a lice removal shampoo and a fine tooth comb. Ugh. I just feel disgusting. Is there anything else I should be doing?
posted by VirginiaPlain at 7:45 PM on August 18, 2017

I successfully treated myself and 2 kids from major lice infestations with no chemical shampoo and no massive laundry marathon.

I don't know what stores you have in Canada but I was able to find a Terminator comb in an Ulta Beauty store as part of a small kit made by Fairytale hair care products. ("Fairytale rosemary repel" was the product line name; they make just bottles of stuff and then the little kit with the metal comb). The key is that the comb gets the eggs. That's what makes it different from most of the combs. You can identify it because the comb is metal, has very narrowly spaced teeth, AND the teeth have fine spiral grooves running down them.

I wetted hair, sprayed liberally with detangler spray, rubbed in some cheap conditioner, and very systematically combed in small sections. The eggs stick to one side of the hair, so you need to comb from top, bottom, left, and right. Wipe frequently on a damp paper towel to see how many eggs and bugs you are getting.

I did this 2x a day til I had a combout with no eggs (about 2 days), then daily for 3 days, then every 2-3 days a few times, then a week later. After the first few days I didn't get any eggs or lice, and the combouts got a lot quicker. I did it while watching TV.

This process cleared up all 3 of us, and we only did basic laundry (coats and sheets and towels), no bagging or daily washing or anything.
posted by telepanda at 7:58 PM on August 18, 2017 [3 favorites]

Use cheap white conditioner. Coat a section liberally. Then taking small sections comb 4 ways so that you get all 4 sides of the hair shaft. Wipe your comb, after each swipe, on a piece of paper towel. Look for the adults, the nits (grey brown specks), and the eggs (while cream specks). You will be disgusted. Keep combing. Comb each section till the paper towel is clean after a wipe. Move to the next section. You must comb in all directions. You must comb until that towel is clean. Then comb some more. Do that every day for a week. Then every 3 days. Then every week. For about a month. It's easy to get the adults but the eggs are a pain in the ass.

It's better to get someone to comb you. Especially for that first round.
posted by Ftsqg at 8:01 PM on August 18, 2017 [3 favorites]

Use a lot of makes it easier to get that comb through
posted by Ftsqg at 8:03 PM on August 18, 2017

Good news, lice is basically harmless -- freaky and upsetting, but harmless. They prefer clean hair (it's not a sign you're dirty, it's a sign you're clean!), and they don't carry disease or spread disease or anything ... they just sit there in your hair being creepy. The trend is to not even exclude children from school for having lice since they're harmless.

Hot-water washing and high heat in the dryer absolutely kills lice dead. They generally can't live without a human host for more than 24 hours, so most places suggest 48 hours to be absolutely sure. (Like, leave your pets with food and go stay at a hotel for 48 hours and all the lice at your home will be dead dead dead.) The nits can hang out for a week before they hatch but as long as you keep checking your head so they have nothing to feed on when they do, no problem.

It's enormously upsetting because it's lice, but really they're quite harmless and not a very big deal in the grand scheme of things.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 8:07 PM on August 18, 2017 [3 favorites]

I'm sitting here with Nix in my hair and waiting 10 minutes before I start nit-picking at it. Is it possible to over-treat lice? Like if I used a conditioner on it tomorrow or the day after and did the same thing? If I see it in a week I know I should go and buy another bottle of Nix or whatever.

Also, this might sound silly, do I rinse the Nix/or conditioner OUT of my hair once I'm done combing it??
posted by VirginiaPlain at 8:32 PM on August 18, 2017

You rinse the Nix out after the amount of time on the bottle is up. If it says ten minutes, rinse your hair after ten minutes. Then you want to put the pure white conditioner in, and comb until you can't find any anymore. Then rinse the conditioner out.

You can do the conditioner and combing as often as makes your heart happy without over-treating, but if you use the lice shampoo, they will have a recommended frequency.
posted by corb at 9:55 PM on August 18, 2017

Excellent! I didn't read the full package apparently when I had posted that.

Yeah, the bugs in question were *definitely* lice. I tried my best to pick them out with the comb tonight, but I think I'm going to spend the next 7 days putting in conditioner and combing them out just to be safe. If not, then I'll have to buy a bottle of Nix.

I always thought I would catch lice at work, never pick it up along the way during my vacation!!
posted by VirginiaPlain at 10:12 PM on August 18, 2017

VirginiaPlain: "Are there any alternatives to that one? I'm in Canada and that comb is $21 + $6 shipping. I doubt it will get here for 2 weeks."

Sounds like you might have a comb already but for reference for future readers any drug store/ pharmacy will sell combs (the metal ones are worth the extra cost IMO) and they are sometimes even available in places like super markets and dollar stores. If ones town has any sort of competition for shopping one can probably find a comb locally.
posted by Mitheral at 10:16 PM on August 18, 2017

When you go to wash or treat your hair, stop up the bathtub or shower. After treating and rinsing your hair, examine the water to see if you see any lice. Do this every day until you don't see any. Then continue to treat for several more days and check the water again. Different types of hair are harder to treat. Thick blond hair being the worst because it harder to see the nits. My daughter was infested after a slumber party, and I looked for days without seeing anything. Then we did the shampoo over the stopped up bathtub thing, and oh my, they were everywhere.
posted by tamitang at 10:56 PM on August 18, 2017 [1 favorite]

Just in to 2nd the don't panic messages you are getting.
From your description, this is a very bad attack. Normally, you don't find lice easily, they are great at hiding in your hair. And finding them in your luggage is extreme. You will definitely need treatments every four days for two weeks to get rid of them all. But if you are meticulous, you will get rid of them.
With two long-haired daughters and a long-haired respite daughter, I've dealt with a lot of lice and I hate them. But they cannot survive very long outside human hair. Some people above are mentioning 48 hours - 8 hours are more like it (I've tested this many times: catch a couple of lice and place them in a glass tumbler. They'll be dead within a day).
So don't panic about your luggage, hats, coats, whatever.
In general, you should air your bedclothes every morning when you wake up. Not just because of lice but because of your general health and that of your bedcovers. Shake pillows and turn over sheets and covers. Hang them outdoors if possible, or over chairs with open windows if not. Do this in the winter, too. Wash your bedlinen frequently. That's all. I've never done extra laundry or put things in freezers because of lice, except if a child needed a specific hat within less than 8 hours after treatment.
You don't really need to buy any chemical treatment, the conditioner/comb is fine and is recommended because the lice tend to become resistant to the shampoos. If you want a chemical treatment, Hedrin and similar products are the best, more efficient and the lice cannot become resistant to them (they suffocates them in silicone).
posted by mumimor at 1:00 AM on August 19, 2017 [3 favorites]

You can vacuum the inside of your suitcase. If you can't find a bag big enough, put it in an area you don't use frequently and just let it sit for several days. Vacuum again before using. They can't survive without a host.

Check the CDC link I posted above for more detailed timelines.
posted by bunderful at 6:12 AM on August 19, 2017

Are you in a part of the world experiencing a hot summer? Leaving your car out in the sun will heat it up enough to kill any critters in there. You probably don't need to do this, but it's super easy and free and might quiet some of your anxiety!
posted by apparently at 7:56 AM on August 19, 2017 [1 favorite]

Another vote for daily combing with conditioner as very effective. You haven't mentioned if you live alone -- if you live with someone, they need treatment too. And be thoughtful about hugging/head-to-head contact until you're cleared up.
posted by LizardBreath at 8:08 AM on August 19, 2017

No, no one lives with me which is why I'm super horrified by this. There's *literally* no one who can help me comb the nits out (I tried my best last night) and I have super thick blonde hair, which sounds like that makes it even more difficult to see the nits/lice. Despite using Nix and going forward with wet-combing, I think I'm just going to inquire with a lice removal company about getting someone to come over and comb my hair again for me. I am so horrified by this, and I know it's not as bad as bedbugs (from my research), but it just feels awful.
posted by VirginiaPlain at 8:28 AM on August 19, 2017

There seems to be a small but growing niche of businesses that are basically lice removal salons. I'd look around to see if there is one near you. Sounds like it would be well worth the money. It is hard to lice comb your own hair!
posted by radioamy at 10:21 AM on August 19, 2017

So folks are saying to have someone comb you, and yeah, that's nice, but my punk ass husband was out of town when we discovered the aforementioned adult+2 kid infestation, and I assure you: you can comb yourself. I did it, and I was horrified that first night and feeling every bit as grossed out as you are, but you got this.

Put on your favorite dumb tv, crack open an adult beverage of choice, and just comb. You can absolutely be sufficiently thorough on your own head.

And just to clarify one more time how this all works: the chemical shampoo kills adult lice bugs. It does not kill the eggs. The special comb many have referenced removes the eggs. The one that comes with the lice shampoo may not. The way the chemical shampoo works is it kills the bugs, and then you try to hit the precise window between when all the eggs have hatched but none of those new hatchlings have laid their own eggs, then you redo the shampoo and kill the new bugs. This is a very hard window to hit, which is part of the reason for the failure rate of just the chemical shampoos. And why you'll get much cleaner much faster if you use an egg removing comb.

PS: on reading your update more carefully, there's no shame in hiring a pro if you feel like that's what you need. If the reassurance that you can do it is helpful, be reassured, but if you are just too freaked out , it's not meant to make you feel bad. I will say, though, that after suffering through, I am WAY more comfortable with lice treatment now than I was on that first horrible night!
posted by telepanda at 7:29 PM on August 19, 2017 [1 favorite]

Seconding telepanda. I have had lice too, had long hair then, and I combed everything myself and that went just fine. I'm honestly surprised by the suggestions that it's common to have someone else do it. I didn't do anything else besides combing either. I just combed with a nit comb with long teeth. You don't need a special brand of nit comb, but long teeth in a nit comb are a must (I have a Nyda). If you don't have a comb with long teeth, it's worth it to go to a large drugstore and buy one or buy one online for delivery tomorrow. If you have a good nit comb, it doesn't matter at all that you don't see the nits in your hair, you comb carefully, and you'll see them on the comb. And it's okay if you miss one because you're not perfect, you'll catch them the second time (the first few days I combed twice a day, but I did not use chemicals). If you you comb diligently for two weeks, you'll be fine. I'm terrible at things like things, but I was fine, and you will be too. And the worst will be over in a few days. I never saw lice in my hair and I asked other people to look who didn't see them either. I got lice on vacation too and it took me days to figure out that it really were lice, so by the time I got a nit comb my situation was not great either, but after a few days the lice were gone.
posted by blub at 3:03 AM on August 20, 2017 [1 favorite]

Thanks for the encouragement telepahda and blub! I'm going to start wet-combing myself tonight.

Yesterday, I was fortunate enough to get in with one of the lice removal businesses I found. It was a bit pricey and time consuming to have a professional comb my hair and get out all she could ($275 and 3 hours!!), but she did a MUCH better job than I think I ever could have done initially. I even bought a proper metal terminator comb from them and I have a "check-up" appointment with them next Saturday. They guarantee 100% removal, so they keep working with you until the lice are removed totally. If I don't do a good enough job with my combing, they will do more. I'll keep up the combing everyday and HOPEFULLY defeat the little bastards!
posted by VirginiaPlain at 4:24 PM on August 20, 2017 [4 favorites]

Oh, you'll get them. Even a dumb teenager with ADHD can use a lice comb frequently enough to eliminate a lice infestation in a week.

Of course, when it happens again 9 months later, dumb teenagers cut off 6 years of hair growth to get rid of them again because they don't want to deal with it again.
posted by wierdo at 8:05 PM on August 20, 2017

Well, good news! After manically combing my hair every day I had a check up appointment with the lady that combed my hair out and she only found two nits on Saturday! I'm going to still keep combing for a bit though... my hair has never looked so nice!!!
posted by VirginiaPlain at 4:40 PM on August 29, 2017 [2 favorites]

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