Head lice are tiny grey/brown, wingless insects, which live on the scalp. Their eggs are known as nits and they are laid glued to the base of hairs, and look like tiny white specks about 2-4mm long (the size of a sesame seed). Once mature they start to reproduce, so can grow alarmingly quickly if not treated. Head lice are common in children, between the ages of 4-11, but anyone with hair can catch them.
How do we tell if we have them?
The presence of head lice is indicated by repeated itching of the scalp, or by detecting them in the hair.
This can be done using a special fine-toothed comb available from any pharmacy. If you or your children have head lice you should check the rest of the family, and alert close friends and your children’s school.
Itching is not always present because it is not caused by the lice biting the scalp, but by an allergy to the lice themselves. Some people are not allergic to them so may not notice they have been infested, and it can take up to three months after the initial infestation for itching to develop.
What is the best treatment?
Ask your pharmacist for an over-the-counter insecticide lotion or crème rinse. Apply the preparation according to the instructions, and remove the lice and eggs with a fine-toothed nit comb. The normal advice is to treat once, and repeat seven days later. Always ask for advice before using medicated lotions on young babies (under 6 months), pregnant women or people with asthma, and always read the instructions carefully.
Sometimes complementary therapy such as tea tree oil is recommended for treating head lice, but their effectiveness has not yet been proven.
There is no need to wash clothing or bedding specially. Lice will die quickly without a host to provide warmth.