The nitty gritty on how to deal with head lice

Posted in News on 13th June 2017

Yes I know!! We are all itching at the mere mention of head lice, or nits as they are more commonly known. But nits continue to be a problem for families across the country, and not just at back-to-school time. We are witnessing outbreaks throughout the whole year, and these outbreaks are often very difficult to eradicate.

The louse itself is a tiny wingless insect that lives on the hair of humans and feeds on small amounts of blood drawn from the scalp. They are extremely contagious and can pass easily from head to head, especially in today’s world of group selfies! Though they can’t jump or fly, they have special claws which allow them to crawl from person to person clinging onto the hair shaft. They are spread mainly from head-to-head contact, but can also be transferred from the sharing of clothes, bed linen, hats, combs and brushes, albeit this is fairly uncommon. While there is no doubt they are annoying and often very hard to get rid of, they are not dangerous nor do they transmit or carry any disease.

Although they are very small, lice and their eggs are visible to the naked eye. Adult lice and baby lice (nymphs) are off white in colour and can grow up to the size of a sesame seed. Most lice will feed twice a day and can survive off the scalp for up to two days.

Adult lice lay their eggs (nits) on the hair shaft close to the scalp, where the egg can stay warm until they hatch 1-2 weeks later. An adult louse can lay up to 10 eggs per day! The eggs are tiny and tan colour, almost resembling dandruff but they are much more difficult to remove. Once the egg has hatched, the shell which now appears white in colour, remains attached to the hair shaft, and as the hair grows away from the scalp they become more visible.

The most common symptom of a lice infestation is scratching, which is actually due to a reaction of the skin to the saliva of the lice. The severity of the itch will depend on the sensitivity of the child’s scalp, and the child may not start to scratch right away.

If you suspect your child may have head lice, or if a notification comes home from the playschool or school, firstly check your child’s hair by parting it into small sections using a fine-tooth comb. Check the hair on the scalp, around the ears and around the nape of the neck. It can be difficult to see a louse or nymphs on the scalp as they move quite fast, good light and sometimes a magnifying glass is necessary. An infestation is not confirmed until a live louse is seen on the scalp, and treating as a preventative measure does not work.

There are a variety of treatment options available in the form of wet combing, shampoos, creams and rinses.

Wet combing is a procedure whereby you remove the nits and lice by hand using a fine-tooth comb on your child’s wet conditioned hair every 2-3 days for 3 weeks after the last live lice were seen. Wetting the hair is recommended because it temporarily immobilizes the lice and the conditioner makes it easier to comb through the hair.

All medicated treatments kill the lice, but it may take a few days for the symptoms to disappear completely. Any unhatched eggs will not be killed with the first treatment however, so I recommend re-treating the head after 7-10 days with the same treatment.

Hedrin Once is the newest head lice treatment on the market in Ireland, although it has been on the shelves for some years now. Unlike some of the older preparations, Hedrin does not contain pesticides. The active ingredient is dimeticone, which smothers the lice, and therefore the lice should not gain resistance to it. Hedrin is suitable from as young as 6 months.

Hedrin Treat and Go Mousse is a leave in treatment which is applied to dry hair and left in overnight or for at least 8 hours, then rinsed and shampooed out. Again this treatment contains no pesticides, the active ingredient disrupts the outer skin of the louse causing it to dehydrate and die. Suitable from 6 months.

Full Marks Spray and Solution contain Cyclometicone which is not a pesticide, rather dehydrates the lice. Apply to dry hair and leave on for 5 minutes. Comb through then shampoo out. Comb included in the pack.

Lyclear Creme Rinse contains the active ingredient permethrin which is a chemical insecticide which will poison the lice, but again not the live eggs. Lyclear crème rinse is to be applied to towel dry, rinsed, shampooed hair and left on for 10 minutes. Comb included in the pack.

After treating the hair, I recommend wet combing every day for the next 7-10 days at least. If there are live lice still detected after 7-10 days then re-treat with the same product, and again continue to wet comb for a further 7-10 days. It is not unheard of to treat a third time, so don’t lose heart if you have to go for third time lucky!

Once you have eradicated the lice, in order to prevent a re-infestation, it is recommended to wash all bed linen in a very hot wash cycle and then dry in a hot cycle of the dryer for at least 20 minutes, thoroughly vacuum carpets and upholstered furniture and soak all hair combs and clips, bobbles etc in medicated shampoo, like a tea tree shampoo, for at least 1 hour.

There are a variety of repellents available also, namely Nitty Gritty. These are all based on essential oils, and while they won’t do any harm, there is no evidence to support their effectiveness. I have however heard several mums and dads saying how effective they find them so the proof is in the pudding as they say!

Nuala can be found in Glengarriff Pharmacy. You can get in touch on 027 63744, or email if you have any further questions or wish to discuss anything at all.

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