Head lice. Nits. The words alone can be enough to make your scalp itch!
They’re commonly thought to be the same thing, however head lice are small, wingless insects that feed on blood from the scalp while nits are their eggs. They’re found worldwide and have been around for thousands of years. Thankfully these days you can find a range of treatment options to help.
Spotting head lice or nits
Nits are usually easier to see than head lice. Use a bright light or torch and look at the hairs behind the ears, at the nape of the neck, or at the base of a pony tail. New eggs are usually found close to the scalp. They are small and hard – like a grain of salt – and are usually yellow white to brown in colour. Unlike dandruff, nits are firmly attached to the hair and hard to remove. Older, hatched eggs are usually transparent and found further from the scalp.
Head lice are brown or grey in colour and approximately 2 – 4 mm long. If you part the hairs on the scalp you may see them quickly crawl away to a more hidden area. It may be easier to see head lice if you apply conditioner to dry hair, wait ten minutes, then comb through with a metal nit comb, wiping the excess on a tissue. The dark lice are easily visible against the white tissue. This technique is called “wet combing”.
It’s a good idea to check your child’s hair for head lice or nits every week.
Treating head lice
Head lice treatments are either chemical or non-chemical and available as shampoos, lotions, mousses or sprays. So which should you choose? It really comes down to your personal preference, how much time you have and your success with previous treatments. If you’re unsure you can speak to your Unichem Pharmacist about which product best suits you.
These contain pesticides deemed safe for human use. They kill lice directly, without harming the person being treated.
These include products that contain benzyl alcohol, herbal ingredients, or essential oils. Most work by suffocating the head lice and can be as effective as chemical treatments.
Both chemical and non-chemical treatments are more effective at killing head lice than nits so the majority of products require a repeat treatment after seven days.
If you don’t find any lice after the second treatment, no further treatment is required. However if they have returned either treat a third time after seven days, use the wet comb technique, or come and see us.
What to do when one treatment doesn’t work
Head lice are fairly resilient and sometimes difficult to treat. If you’re not having success, there could be a number of reasons:
- Have another look at the directions and be sure to leave the treatment on for the specified time
- Be sure to re-treat hair after seven days
- Your child could be experiencing re-infection from people who have not treated their hair for head lice
- The lice could be resistant to the treatment you’re using
If one treatment hasn’t worked it may be best to try a different option.
Preventing head lice
- Avoid head-to-head contact
- Brush hair daily
- Check the hair of everyone in your family at least once a week
- Discourage children from playing with each other’s hair
- Don’t share brushes, combs, hats or other items that come into contact with hair
- If your child is scratching a lot – check their head carefully
- Tie long hair back or plait it
If your child has head lice it’s a good idea to notify their school so that other children can be checked too.
Remember to always apply treatment strictly in accordance with the manufacturer’s instructions and talk to us if somebody requiring treatment is pregnant or breastfeeding.