Just last week when Maisy came running out from nursery she’s had a pink letter in her hand for me – HEAD LICE. Now I know as a parent of three little girls I fully expect head lice to be popping up occasionally as the girls get older, but at nursery age I wasn’t expecting it. I tried my best to explain what they were with Maisy – she wasn’t impressed anyway after a good comb through and inspection of every section of her hair she hadn’t caught them but it had made me more aware to make sure I’m checking through her hair regularly and taking steps to prevent her catching them.
1) What ARE head lice?
“Head lice are small wingless insects that live on the scalp, feeding from the blood. Baby lice are extremely small but mature within 10 days and only after that are they able to reproduce, with numbers growing more slowly than most people think. Females lay several viable eggs a day and adult lice can live for as long as a month.”
2) How do they spread?
“Lice are spread only by head-to-head contact, so sleepovers, after school activities, playing with friends and visiting family are the most common places for children to pick them up and pass them on.”
3) How do you know if you’ve got them (as the child and as the parent looking)?
“Although the best known symptom is the itching, although only about 30% are aware of it – the only true way of knowing is by regular checks with a head lice detection comb. Head lice can be uncomfortable, can prevent sleep and concentration, and can cause bullying. It’s best for parents to check for head lice using a comb made for the purpose – ideally white, so that lice can be easily seen and with teeth no more than 0.3mm apart. Research has shown that detection combing is nearly four times more effective than visual inspection for finding live lice. Lice are around 2-4mm long but immature lice are even smaller, living close to the scalp. Nits are dead or empty shells, which can be removed by hand or by combing.”
4) Why are kids more prone? And girls?
“Children are more prone as they are in close contact with each other. Children aged 4 to 11 are most at risk but no one is immune. Girls and women do tend to be more prone as girls tend to play more closely together and women are the carers of the family. But there are certainly plenty of boys and men with lice.”
5) Any preventative measures? eg things to avoid, products to use
“Avoiding will not stop you from catching head lice! Hedrin have just launched a clinically proven head lice protection spray called Protect & Go. It’s a mango and orange scented conditioning spray which should be used at least twice a week. It protects children from the parasites by breaking the life cycle and killing lice before an infestation can be established. The spray is also kind to children’s hair and should be used as part of the regular cleaning regime, much the same as cleaning teeth or using shampoo.”
6) If you’ve got them, what should you do?
“If you find live lice, firstly, don’t worry. Head lice are a normal part of life and there is nothing to be embarrassed or ashamed about. Research suggests lice have become resistant to pesticide treatments, so pick a non pesticide treatment which will work by smothering the lice and either stripping them of their waxy coating, causing them to dehydrate or blocking the openings to their air tubes, disrupting their ability to manage water. These physical modes of action mean there is theoretically no chance for the head lice to build up a resistance. Try a treatment containing dimeticone or octanediol, which are used in Hedrin’s treatment products. If you’re unsure about treatment options, speak to your pharmacist.”
7) Are treatments still as noxious and overpowering as I remember them as a kid, or are there gentler versions now?
“No – the new insecticides treatments are odourless, non stinging, easy to use and kind to skin and hair.”
8) What’s the key ingredient that kills them and is there a natural alternative?
“With non pesticide treatments, the key ingredients in use are dimeticone, octanediol and isopropyl myristate. There is limited evidence to show that natural remedies, such as tea tree oil, mayonnaise etc are effective in eradicating head lice.”
9) Does the whole family need to be treated?
“Only if you find live lice on other members of the family, never treat ‘just in case’.”
10) What would happen if you left nits untreated?
“Nits are the hatched or dead eggs. They remain on the hair as long as the hair is on the head and having them on your hair will make no difference to the hair or to you. However, leaving head lice untreated thus leading to a long term untreated infection has similar symptoms to low-grade flu and can make a child irritable and can result in a secondary bacterial infection.”
11) Is it true they prefer clean hair?
“Having head lice has nothing to do with personal hygiene. Head lice can live on all types of hair and no preference exists between clean or dirty hair!”
12) Does the ‘nit nurse’ still exist in schools?
“No! Employing a nit nurse is not an effective method of controlling head lice. To adhere to best practice, each of the 5.5 million primary school children in the UK would need to be checked by the nit nurse once every week! So the likelihood of each child receiving a thorough check is minimal at best. Even if the nit nurse checked and found lice it would still be up to the parents to choose and use a treatment. Parents need to feel empowered to check for head lice regularly and feel confident about using an appropriate treatment when an infestation is found. The website www.onceaweektakeapeek.co.uk has some great advice for parents on managing and treating head lice.”
This post was written in collaboration with Hedrin.