Itchy Head Lice
Urban legends tend to associate head lice with dirty hair and neglect. The truth is that those pesky bugs don’t respect a clean head of hair either. Anybody can get them if they are in head-to-head contact with an infected head: they just like hair, and any head will do. I’m afraid that there’s little you can do to prevent head lice but combs and chemicals are effective weapons.
The lice lay eggs on the scalp, close to the root of the hair. They incubate there for around ten days and then hatch leaving behind the eggs on the scalp (nits). These then feed from blood in the scalp and grow quite quickly into adult form. This is when they will become adventurous and attempt to infect another child’s scalp. This entire life cycle takes only seven days.
Lice can’t fly or jump. Nor can they survive on car seats or pillows. Typically, it’s younger children I treat, because they’re at higher risk for head-to-head contact during playtime. But now teens are sticking their heads together every day to take selfies and picking up head lice too. Lice can be passed onto other family members during cuddle-time.
Head lice cause itch on the head, although this may not always be present. Most children have no symptoms at all and do remember that lice are harmless.
To minimise problems, use a detection comb every week or so on the whole family. Wash hair normally. Then use a fine-toothed detection comb (these are available from your pharmacist) to comb through the whole head of hair from scalp to hair tips, dividing the hair into sections and working systematically to make sure you comb it all. The ideal detection comb is a plastic one with flat, parallel teeth less than 0.3mm apart but your pharmacist will be able to advise you. Look for brown/black insects a few millimetres long.
Once found there are plenty of products to treat lice and it’s vitally important to tell other family members and the school so that reinfection won’t occur after treatment.
There are a number of treatments available. Wet combing is the most common. It involves at least four sessions of meticulous combing with the special comb. These sessions should be spaced over a four-week period. No fully grown head lice should be seen on at least them combings.
Lotions such as malathion are available from your GP. These should be applied to the hair twice at least seven days apart, left on the hair for 12 hours and then washed out. The problem with insecticides like malathion is that the ever adapting head louse is becoming resistant to them.
A more popular method is to coat the lice in a substance called dimeticone. This prevents them from moving and feeding and they eventually die. It is less toxic to the scalp than the older insecticide treatments. It doesn’t kill eggs however, so may need to be repeated seven days later. It is available over the counter and a few treatments should banish the bugs for good.
If you’ve conquered one infestation it does not mean that your child won’t bring home new head lice at the beginning of next term. If your child comes into contact with other children, there is always the risk that they will become reinfected.