Head Lice or “Nits”
If you are given the responsibility of caring for children, whether you are a parent, carer or teacher, you should recognise the signs of head lice (nits, as they are also referred to) and know how to treat them.
During their childhood, most children will be exposed to head lice (nits) at some point, whether it is at day-care, school or simply playing at home with their siblings or friends.
Head lice are small and white, and appear like dandruff around the scalp. The roots of hair are a perfect nesting ground for head lice; nits are the eggs that they lay.
Facts about head lice:
- While they can be irritating, there is no risk of head lice (nits) carrying disease.
- Lice are attracted to human blood. They do not nest on the skin of pets or animals.
- Interestingly, not everyone itches when they have lice. Some children do not even realise they have head lice (nits), so regular fortnightly inspections are recommended.
- Lice are not attracted to dirty surfaces! Many parents and carers believe that if their children are kept clean that they can avoid head lice, unfortunately lice have no preference and will nest wherever they can.
Handy hints for preventing the spread of head lice:
- Lice cannot jump or fly, they can only crawl. The only way of spreading lice is through direct head-to-head contact. If your child has lice, it is recommended that you inform other parents and your child’s school, and keep your child out of contact with children until the lice have been removed.
- Female lice lay about 3-8 eggs a day, about 1.5cm from the scalp. Once new larvae hatch, the females will immediately start to reproduce. If lice are not treated correctly, they will continue to breed and spread from scalp to scalp.
- If schools or child-care centres are aware of a lice problem, parents and carers should be alerted immediately, because lice will spread quickly through any place where children are together.
Advice for getting rid of nits:
- If your child has head lice (nits), it is recommended that your entire family is treated.
- It is important that you wash the linen that your child sleeps on (especially their pillow case) in hot water.
- Any clothes that the child has worn since contracting the lice should also be washed in warm water.
There are many options for getting rid of nits. Parents can choose from a range of non-toxic insecticides or conditioners. It is recommended that you refer to a pharmacist or health professional for the most suitable method for your children.
With either method, the key to effective treatment is making sure that the product is applied to the scalp.
Using a hair conditioner when getting rid of nits
Here are some handy tips and hints to consider when using a hair conditioner and fine-toothed comb for getting rid of nits:
- Brush the child’s hair to ensure that there are no tangles. This can often be difficult because most children will have messy hair as a result of constant scratching.
- Rewards, games and distractions are great ways of helping the child cope with discomfort of combing. The Wiggles’ songs “Wah Hoo Hey, I’m combing (or brushing) my hair today” might help.
- Brushing the hair prior to applying the conditioner will prevent lice from hiding in knots and tangles and avoiding the treatment and will ensure that the product covers the entire scalp. Dorothy’s Detangler is a great product which can help smooth the hair (however you must ensure that the child’s hair is dry before applying the conditioner).
- Purchase a fine-tooth comb (available from most chemists and supermarkets) to remove the conditioner. Combing with a fine comb can remove the live lice and catch the eggs.
- After combing, wipe the head lice, nits and excess conditioner on a paper towel or tissue and dispose.
- Repeat combing the hair until you have finished getting rid of nits that may have been caught in knots and tangles. Comb the entire scalp at least 4 or 5 times.
Using insecticides when getting rid of nits
Insecticides are available at most pharmacies. There are many forms of chemical treatment, including lotions, foams and shampoos.
Here are some handy tips for applying insecticides, but be sure to read the instructions carefully before each application.
- Most insecticides do not need to be applied as often as conditioners, but lice may become less affected by constant use.
- Insecticides should not be used on pregnant or breast-feeding women or children under the age of 12 months.
- Some children may have allergies to insecticides, so it is recommended that you read the product information and warnings or refer to your pharmacist before treatment.
- Make sure that the entire scalp and every hair is coated with each treatment.
- Combing the hair first as with using the conditioner is essential.
- After the product has been applied and removed, use a fine-tooth comb (which can be purchased at most chemists or supermarkets) to remove any head lice, nits or excess product that may be in the child’s hair.
- Most products suggest repeating the process every few days. Be sure to read the instructions to determine how frequently the treatment should be applied.