That awful note arrives home with your child from school….head lice!!! Immediately that feeling of dread travels through your body. You want to act straight away but what do you do? What do you need?
It may sound obvious but you must first confirm that your child really does have lice. Use a fine tooth comb to brush their hair and make sure you actually spot a moving louse before you start treatment. You should be particularly interested in the areas above the ears and above the hairline at the back of the head.
Head lice are wingless insects that are grey-brown in colour. They are tiny when they first hatch but eventually grow to 3mm long (the size of a sesame seed) over 6-10 days. Head lice feed by biting the scalp and sucking blood. Only when mature can a head louse transfer from head to head. Head lice cannot fly, jump or swim. They are spread by head-to-head contact and climb from the hair of an infected person to the hair of someone else. Children (particularly those in primary school) are often affected by head lice because they tend to have more frequent head-to-head contact.
A female head louse lays eggs by cementing them to hairs where they will be kept warm by the scalp. When these eggs hatch 7 to 10 days later, the empty eggshells or nits remain glued in place. These are white and can often be seen on close inspection. After mating, a female may start to lay eggs from the seventh day after she has hatched. So to break the life cycle and stop head lice spreading, they need to be removed from the head before the sixth day after hatching.
A number of treatments are available. Your pharmacist can suggest a suitable one for you depending on
• the age of your child,
• whether they are asthmatic,
• what quantity you will need,
• whether you would prefer a pesticide free option and
• whether you need a quick and effective treatment or are happy to treat overnight.
Always follow the instructions on the treatment pack! Many treatments require that you repeat the process in 7 days after all eggs have hatched but before the new lice have matured enough to lay eggs of their own. Products used to treat head lice do not prevent the infection from occurring and should never be used as a preventative measure.
Once treated, there are a number of strategies you can take to prevent re-infestation:
• Check children’s hair for lice and nits regularly. Wet comb the hair every week after your child’s bath.
• Tie up long hair in a ponytail to avoid hair coming into contact with other children.
• Inform your child’s school, contacts and friends straight away. Other parents can then be asked to check and treat their own children so as to avoid re-infestation.
• Specific repellent products may be purchased in the pharmacy and may be suitable for your child. Tea tree shampoo may also be used on a regular basis.
LloydsPharmacy stock a number of products suitable for treating head lice lice in children and adults.
Written by Aoife.