Heads up on head lice

If your child starts school this year read on… 1 in 8 primary school children have head lice yet many Dads are badly informed about this common pest. Nurse Consultant Christine Brown is here to help:

What are they and how do you get them?
Head lice are not harmful but do itch: they are wingless, six-legged insects that feed on blood in the scalp. Newly hatched, they are grey-brown and the size of a pinhead. In 10 days they grow to size of a sesame seed and can then reproduce. Eggs (nits) are translucent greyish specks and take 7 days to hatch. Numbers grow quickly without treatment.

Head lice are spread only from direct head to head contact with someone who has them. A long-term infestation can have similar symptoms to low-grade flu.

Spotting them
Checking your family’s hair regularly is essential. Use a good quality, plastic detection comb with rigid teeth no more than 0.3mm apart, rather than your fingers.

Check freshly-washed hair, as lice become inactive in water, and a conditioner can ease combing. Distract your child with a book or TV. Check the back of the neck, top of the head, under the fringe, behind the ears and close to the scalp.

Empty shells stay glued to the hair, standing out as white oval specks. Only seek treatment if you find live insects, not empty eggs shells.

Treating them
‘Nit nurses’ no longer exist. Parents must take charge and check all their family’s hair on a regular basis, seeking immediate treatment if lice are found.

Pesticide lotions and liquids can be ineffective as lice have built up a resistance to many and some parents are reluctant to expose their children to insecticides. Follow directions very carefully and do not use more than three times in a row.

Lice have not built up a resistance to non–pesticide treatments. One example is Hedrin 4% (£11.99 for 120ml available from pharmacies nationwide) which uses odourless silicone to coat lice, effectively smothering them. The treatment must be applied twice, a week apart, to ensure all lice from newly hatched eggs have been killed. Silicones do not produce fumes or are absorbed by the skin so can be used by asthmatics and on young children.

Wet combing takes patience – twice a week for at least a fortnight, and it’s easy to miss a few.

Herbal and alternative treatments are available but effectiveness varies.

Keep Calm
Head lice are a normal part of family life. The best way to stop the spread is to check regularly then treat and manage infections quickly.

Go to for fun information you can share with your children on how they can help.