Head lice

The children have gone back to school but apart from knowledge and skills, what else might come home with your child? Unfortunately, nits or head lice.

Head lice are small grey-brown coloured insects that have an affinity for hair, particularly in children aged four to 11 years old. However, older and younger people can also get infected. Other signs of head lice include nits (which are the head lice’s yellowish egg shells) and lice faeces (black specks) in the scalp and hair. Head lice do not discriminate – they love both clean and dirty hair and are not the result of poor hygiene.

The infection is spread by head-to-head contact and generally occurs when children play together, or when they come into close contact with each other. This allows the insect to move from one head to another.

Not all people with head lice get an itchy scalp when they are infected. The itch associated with head lice is from sensitivity to the saliva of the head lice.

If you notice coloured specks in your child’s hair, or you receive a notification from the school that there is an outbreak, then you need to check your child’s head. You can do this by searching the scalp and the hair close to the scalp, by using a metal fine tooth comb. While this may remove the faeces and cast off nits, is unlikely to kill all of the head lice.

Several treatments are available from your local pharmacy to help kill the head lice. Some of these treatments may need to be reapplied in order to completely eradicate the infection. It is important you read the instructions thoroughly before applying any treatment. Following treatment, you need to comb your child’s wet hair thoroughly with a fine tooth comb to remove the dead hair lice and debris. This also assists with eradication.

Your local community pharmacist can help you with advice about products to treat head lice and advise you about prevention of this troublesome condition.