Head lice are a harmless but irritating pest that can cause severe distress to both parents and children. Most people will experience trying to tackle head lice at some point in their lives.
In our Haven pharmacies, we often meet parents who have taken every precaution available to them and are stunned when their child still manages to catch head lice. We also know that sometimes, upon receiving a letter from school, you might start to convince yourself that your child has head lice when this might not necessarily be the case. Hopefully this blog will enable you to spot a louse, but if in doubt, we would encourage you to drop into your local Haven to speak to an expert who can advise you on the best course of action.
What are Head Lice?
Head lice are small blood sucking insects that live on the human scalp. They are one of the most common childhood conditions worldwide. Head lice are tiny wingless insects that are grey-brown in colour. They are the size of a pinhead when they hatch and 3mm long (the size of a sesame seed) when fully grown. Although children are most commonly affected, anyone with hair can get head lice.
What Causes Head Lice?
They are passed by head to head contact. They cannot jump or fly from one head to another, so it is this close contact that spreads them from one person to another. They prefer the warmest parts of the head so are usually found behind the ears or in the nape of the neck. Head lice only affect humans and cannot be passed on to animals or be caught from them. Lice will not survive on bedding or clothing.
What are the Signs and Symptoms
The usual symptoms of head lice are persistent itching of the scalp, finding empty white or opaque eggshells in the hair or on the shoulders. Itching is not caused by the lice biting the scalp but by an allergy to the lice so may not always be present.
Some people are not allergic to head lice, so they may not notice that they have a head lice infestation. Even if someone with head lice is allergic to them, itching can take up to three months to develop. In some cases of head lice, a rash may appear on the back of the neck. This is caused by a reaction to louse droppings.
Detecting Head Lice
In order to confirm an active infestation, a louse must be found through a reliable method, such as using a fine tooth comb otherwise known as wet combing. No treatment should be used unless a louse is found. Regular combing is more effective at detection than relying on a repellent spray.
Treating Head Lice
There are many treatments for treating head lice and help reduce their reoccurance:
- Wet comb children’s hair regularly to prevent an infestation of head lice. The hair is divided into sections with a regular comb, and then a lice detection comb should be drawn from the scalp to the ends of the hair, checking for lice at each stroke. Sufficient combing may take up to 30 minutes per head. Parents can be reassured that regular combing can be just as effective as a chemical-based treatment at removing live lice, especially in smaller numbers.
- If head lice are found, inform those who they have been in close contact with, to check if they are present in their children.
- Head lice can be found in all types of hair, clean or dirty, long or short, so children should be reassured it’s not a ‘dirty’ problem
- Head lice don’t live on pets or other animals, so they can’t be caught from a family pet
- Resistance to head lice treatments can occur, so only treat those who have head lice. Head lice treatment should never be used unless a live louse is found.
- Conduct regular weekly checks for head lice to make sure that you can treat an infestation as soon as possible
- Medicated lotions and sprays are not effective in preventing head lice infestations. They should only be used if a live louse has been found on your or your child’s head.
- Treatment can be regarded as successful if no live lice are found on both days three and seven after completion of a course of treatment.
- Itching may persist several weeks after a successful treatment and parents should be reassured not to keep re-treating
There are a range of very effective over the counter remedies available from your Haven pharmacy to help treat head lice. If a pharmacy treatment is requested, either a pesticide or a non-pesticide lotion can be recommended. All need to be repeated and none guarantee absolute success. High resistance has been shown with chemical pesticides and non-chemical options may be more suitable for patients with sensitive skin. Please speak to one of our trained advisers or ask your Haven Pharmacist for advice on which treatment suits your needs.