Head Lice

Practical Head Lice Advice

Head lice are tiny insects which live off the scalp. They are a particular problem for young children.

Head lice move from scalp to scalp by climbing - they can't jump, fly or swim.

Lice attach their eggs to strands of hair. The eggs take around a week to hatch. Lice mature within a week and female lice can lay eggs within just seven days of hatching.

A range of treatments are available for head lice.

Common Symptoms of Head Lice

Head lice are tiny insects, with most adults around 3mm in length. Eggs are even smaller - they are about the size of a pinhead and can be hard to spot.

The lice themselves are grey/brown, whilst nits are slightly shiny, and white.

Head lice spread by direct head-to-head contact, and usually affect young children. Head lice are most common amongst kids aged four to 11. However, anyone with hair can catch lice.

Children with head lice usually notice their scalp is itchy - caused by an allergic reaction to the lice, rather than the lice biting on the scalp. This isn't always the case, though. Itching can take up to three months to develop.

On closer inspection, parents should be able to see if lice or nits are present or not. It can be very difficult to see the lice, and nits alone are not necessarily an indication of an active infestation. Using detection combing (on wet or dry hair) is usually the best way to tell if a child has head lice or not. Special lice detection combs are available for this, and these are more effective on wet hair as the lice remain motionless.

Medicated shampoos or lotions can also help remove lice.

Having lice is not a sign of bad hygiene or having dirty hair. Lice don't really have a preference - they'll infect any hair they can, regardless of cleanliness or length.

Suggested Head Lice Treatments

Because head lice are able to reproduce quickly, it can be difficult to get rid of an infestation.

Lice can also become immune to medicinal treatments.

Some more modern treatments include oil and silicone-based preparations which physically damage the lice, rather than chemically. 

Wet combing is a good place to start: this can help ascertain if there is an infestation, and drag lice out of the hair.

Medicated lotion and head lice shampoo can help zap lice and eggs, but these aren't always 100% effective. It's definitely worth following up a wash with the detection comb to remove strays.

Always check for baby lice hatching from eggs about three – five days after treatment. If wet combing, it is important to repeat the combing on day five, nine and thirteen, to remove young lice before they mature.

If the lice become immune to medication, refuse to shift, or seem to constantly reinfect hair, it's worth speaking to a doctor.

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