‘Nit’ What You Want

All you need to know about those pesky little nits!

Most parents across the country will be ecstatic to have their children back in the classroom. Unfortunately, even with social distancing, there is a chance your child may bring home the dreaded H word…no, not homework. HEAD LICE. In this blog, I will discuss what head lice are and the symptoms, how to detect live lice and how Davidsons Chemist can help manage you and your child’s itchy problem.

What are head lice?

Head lice are small, itchy insects that live on human hair and feed on blood from the scalp. Head lice are white to grey-brown in colour, and typically around 3mm in length (Image 1). They are spread by head-to-head contact and cannot jump, fly or swim.

Females lay approximately eight eggs daily, which hatch after 7-10 days. The empty eggshells, also known as ‘nits’ are white in colour and remain glued to the hair (Image 2). To stop them from spreading, head lice need to be removed within 9 days of hatching.

Who is most likely to be affected by head lice?

Head lice can affect anyone, however, is most common in children aged 4-11 years. Children often play in close proximity, leading to a greater chance of spreading. The main groups affected include:

  • Individuals with long hair
  • Families with children
  • Girls
  • Children under 12 years

Contrary to popular belief, an infestation is not a result of poor hygiene or dirty hair. All types of hair can be affected, regardless of its length and condition. Head lice cannot be passed on or caught from animals and only affect humans.

What are the symptoms of head lice?

The main symptom of head lice is extreme itching. Itching is not caused by biting, but by an allergy to the lice. Your child may complain that they feel something move in their hair. Sometimes a rash may appear on the back of the neck and behind the ears. This is caused by a reaction to lice droppings.

Head lice are not dangerous and can be easily treated (see below).

What am I looking for in my child’s hair?

To confirm an infestation, it’s important to look closely at the hair. The only way to confirm head lice is to find live lice. You may notice the following on your child’s scalp when investigating:

  • Adult head lice – brown/grey in colour, size of a sesame seed
  • Oval eggs – yellow in colour
  • Empty eggshells – white in colour, stuck in hair tightly
  • Rash – caused by allergy

How do I detect live head lice?

The most reliable and accurate method of detecting live lice is by using a method called ‘detection combing’.  This involves using a special fine-toothed head lice comb, available in all our branches. The comb is most effective when used on wet hair, however can be used on dry hair too. Lice are motionless when wet, therefore are easy to comb out of wet hair.

This method can help detect the smallest lice and is the best way to confirm an active infestation.

To use the detection combing method, you should:

  • Wash hair with ordinary shampoo
  • Apply lots of conditioner (any conditioner will do)
  • Comb the whole head of hair, from the roots to the ends

It usually takes about 10 minutes to comb short hair and can take 20 to 30 minutes for long, frizzy or curly hair.

If you discover lice in your child’s hair it is important you check the rest of the family and alert close friends. Treatment should ONLY be used if live lice have been detected and should not be used preventively. Once live detection has been confirmed, treatment should be given as soon as possible. There is no need to see your GP if head lice is confirmed.

I think my child has head lice, what treatment is available?

After an infestation has been confirmed, you can either treat the head lice by wet combing the hair or by using a special lotion or spray designed to eradicate the lice. These products are available at Davidsons Chemist and our trained staff will be able to advise you on which products are most appropriate. It is important to note that neither treatment techniques will protect against re-infestation.

Lotions and sprays should only be used if live lice have been confirmed. Several products are available to purchase, including shampoos and crème rinses; however, these have been proven to be less effective than lotions.

The most popular product to use is dimeticone lotion (Hedrin). It should be noted that dimeticone should not be used on children under six months of age, except on medical advice. This odourless and easy to use treatment is suitable for asthmatics, pregnant women and those who are breastfeeding. Hedrin lotion is available from your local Davidsons Chemist under the NHS Pharmacy First Scotland service after a consultation with a pharmacist.

It is important to follow the instructions when applying lotions or sprays. The length of time may vary, ranging from 10 minutes to eight hours, depending on what product has been applied. It is recommended that dimeticone lotion is applied overnight and rinsed off in the morning. Generally, two applications of lotion are required to eradicate head lice, and these should be used 7 days apart to kill any newly hatched lice.

Some products available should not be used in pregnancy or in people with certain medical conditions, such as asthma. Therefore, we advise you to consult with your pharmacist before using these products.

How do I know the treatment has been successful?

After completion of treatment, you should check your child’s hair using detection combing. It is recommended to do this 2-3 days after using the treatment and 7 days later. If no lice have been found then the treatment was successful. If empty shells (nits) are present and no live lice have been found, this does not mean the treatment was unsuccessful.

If you believe the treatment was unsuccessful, you should check the rest of your family as a possible source of re-infestation. You can also consult with your local pharmacist or GP if concerned treatment was unsuccessful.

Is there anything I can do to prevent head lice?

Unfortunately, there’s nothing you can do to prevent head lice. You can help stop them from spreading by wet or dry combing regularly to catch them early. It is highly important to not use medicated lotions and sprays to prevent head lice. This will not work and may irritate the scalp.

If you have any concerns about head lice, please contact your local Davidsons Chemist for more information and support. Our highly trained staff will be able to provide you with advice and treatment to help solve your ‘nitty gritty’ problem.

Published by Callum Watson – Strathblane Pharmacist Manager