Having children is wonderful, and we all love the things that they bring home from school: paintings, awards or even a new song.
But the one thing they like to share that we appreciate a lot less is head lice.
It is that subject that makes your head itch just thinking about it.
But it is a reality of life, especially when small children are involved, so it is important to know what head lice are, how to treat them and how to prevent them taking up residence in your hair.
Head lice, or nits as the eggs are known, are extremely common in young children. Once they attach themselves to a child, they are easily spread amongst a family.
It is important to remember that whilst they are irritating, they are not dangerous, they do not spread disease and they are not an indication of cleanliness.
What do nits look like?
Head lice – or nits as they are often called - are small insects which measure no more than 3mm.1
This makes them very difficult to spot, so the first sign that someone has them is usually the constant itching on their scalp.
These lice lay eggs in the hair which are known as nits and are usually brown or white in colour. These eggs become attached to the hair until they hatch.
How can you tell if you have head lice?
When you have head lice, your head will not only itch due to the fact that they feed on blood from the scalp, it will also feel like something is moving in your hair.2
Combing the hair with a special fine-toothed lice comb (ideally after you have washed and conditioned it) will help you to find live lice and confirm your suspicions.
Once you know that lice are present, you can comb wet hair to remove them, but this can be a time-consuming task.
There are also medicated lotions, shampoos and sprays which will kill the lice within 24 hours, but they may still need combing out afterwards.
These can be bought over the counter and are usually suitable for use on young children and babies.
You may need to repeat this process after a week to tackle any newly hatched lice.
If you prefer a more natural approach, then adding tea tree oil to a conditioner can be very effective in killing head lice.
What is the best way to prevent head lice?
There is an old myth that head lice are attracted to dirty hair, but this is not true, so your children cannot use it as an excuse to avoid a bath.
Treat them as soon as you find them
You should treat head lice as soon as you spot them, in an attempt to stop them from spreading, but you do not need to keep your child off school.
Unfortunately, there is not a lot you can do to prevent your child, or yourself from catching head lice.
They tend to crawl from head to head, which is why they spread amongst groups of children who often play in close contact with one another.
Wet comb hair regularly to check for headlice
Keep checking your child for signs of lice or their eggs by wet combing their hair regularly or if you see them scratching.
Once someone has head lice, the best way to stop them spreading is to treat them as quickly as possible.
Keep long hair tied back
Lice tend to prefer hair that allows them to get to the scalp quickly, so contrary to popular belief, they may have a liking for short hair.
If you child sports long locks, then keep it tied back to try and minimise the risk of contact.
Avoid sharing towels, brushes and combs
As head lice travel through head-to-head contact, you should try to avoid sharing clothing, bedding, combs and towels.
You should wash as many of these items as possible on a hot cycle to help eliminate the problem.
Fighting head lice can be an ongoing battle for many parents, and if they recur quickly, it may be that the eggs from the original lice were not fully removed.
If you are struggling to completely get rid of them then have a chat with your pharmacist who should be able to make some recommendations.
Dealing with lice can be frustrating but they can be removed eventually with a little time and patience.
Remember, they are perfectly normal and are nothing to be embarrassed about!
Last updated: 22 March 2021