Phthiriasis (pediculosis ciliaris)

The CMGs are guidelines on the diagnosis and management of a range of common and rare, but important, eye conditions that present with varying frequency in primary and first contact care.

Share options

Aetiology

Infestation of lid margins by the crab louse (Phthirus pubis), a bloodfeeding obligate ectoparasite affecting only humans

  • (NB in Pediculosis capitis, i.e. infestation by head lice [Pediculus humanus capitis], the lashes are rarely involved)
  • crab lice infest coarsely spaced hair, predominantly pubic hair
  • lashes also provide ideal spacing
  • genital-to-eye transmission, possibly on bedding and towels
  • crab lice survive no more than two days if separated from human host
  • this insect is not a vector for other diseases
  • in severe cases, lice faeces can cause keratoconjunctivitis

Predisposing factors

Most common in young adults via sexual transmission

Can be contracted within families through poor hygiene

Symptoms

Intense itching of lid margins

Red watery eye

Unilateral or bilateral

Signs

  • madarosis (loss of lashes)
  • conjunctival hyperaemia
  • superficial punctate keratopathy (SPK)
  • bites leave red inflamed areas on lid margins
  • possible pre-auricular lymphadenopathy
  • adult lice (1.0–1.5mm long) attached to lash; almost completely transparent (high magnification [x40] required at slit lamp)
  • eggs (termed nits) in greyish white cigar-shaped shells attached near base of lashes. Empty shells remain after hatching
  • reddish-brown deposits at the base of the lashes are a mixture of louse faeces and host blood following louse bites

Differential diagnosis

Blepharitis (anterior)

  • nits may be confused with lash debris
  • Demodex mites are much smaller than crab lice (0.1–0.4mm long) and are not usually seen outside the lash follicle

Allergic reactions affecting lid skin

Management by optometrist

Practitioners should recognise their limitations and where necessary seek further advice or refer the patient elsewhere

GRADE* Level of evidence and strength of recommendation always relates to the statement(s) immediately above

Non pharmacological

Sensitive counselling (i.e. by GP) required as this is a sexually transmitted disease

  • advice on personal hygiene: wash hands after touching pubic region
  • NB possibility of sexual abuse of children

Remove lice, nits and shells (casts) at slit lamp

  • use forceps (lice have a tenacious grip on the lashes)

Advise on any symptoms of pubic infestation

  • effective treatments (e.g. malathion, permathrin) available without prescription from pharmacies

Sexual partners or family members at risk should have their eyes examined and treated if necessary

Bed linen, towels and clothes should be washed at 60°C for at least 5 min

(GRADE*: Level of evidence=low, Strength of recommendation=strong)

Pharmacological

Application of Simple Eye ointment to the lid margins will suffocate lice (unmedicated ointment, applied twice daily for at least 2 weeks)

(GRADE*: Level of evidence=low, Strength of recommendation=strong)

Permethrin 1% lotion applied to lashes for 10 minutes with eyes closed NB: insecticides can be toxic to the cornea

(GRADE*: Level of evidence=low, Strength of recommendation=weak)
 

Management category

Referral via GP for management of non-ocular aspects, including tracing and screening close contacts; also screening for other sexually transmitted diseases

B1 (modified): possible prescription of drugs: telephone GP to discuss referral and for advice on local safeguarding arrangements in the case of a child

Possible management by ophthalmologist

Heavy infestation can be reduced by Argon laser photo-ablation or cryotherapy (freezing)

Evidence base

*GRADE: Grading of Recommendations Assessment, Development and Evaluation (www.gradeworkinggroup.org)
 

Sources of evidence

Clinical Effectiveness Group (British Association of Sexual Health and HIV) United Kingdom National Guideline on the Management of Phthirus pubis infestation (2007) (http://www.bashh.org/documents/28/28.pdf)

Ma D-L, Vano-Galvan S. Infestation of the eyelashes with Phthirus pubis. CMAJ. 2010;182(4):E187.

Panos GD, Petropoulos IK, Dardabounis D, Gatzioufas Z. Phthiriasis palpebrarum. BMJ Case Rep. 2013; bcr-2013-009272

Ryan MF. Phthiriasis palpebrarum infection: a concern for child abuse. J Emerg Med. 2014;46(6):e159-62

Lay summary

This condition is caused by infestation of the eyelashes by the crab louse, which is usually acquired by sexual contact.
Phthiriasis causes the eyelids to become itchy and the eyes to become red and watery. It may be possible to see the eggs of the lice (called nits) clinging to the bases of the eyelashes.
The treatment involves removing the lice and nits at the slit lamp (the clinical microscope used by optometrists and ophthalmologists). Pubic infection can be treated with drugs available without prescription from pharmacies. Patients are advised that they have a sexually transmitted condition and that their partner(s) may need to be examined also. Bed linen, towels and clothes should be washed at 60°C for at least five minutes.

Phthiriasis
Version 8
Date of search 28.03.17
Date of revision 22.06.17
Date of publication 17.10.17
Date for review 27.03.19
© College of Optometrists 

View more Clinical Management Guidelines

OK
Loading...
Loading...
Loading...