Head lice are tiny insects that live in hair, whereas nits are the empty egg cases attached to hair that head lice hatch from. Head lice are more common in children but can affect anyone of any age, and it’s important to realise that they are not a sign of dirty hair or poor hygiene. Close hair-to-hair contact is needed to pass lice on; head lice cannot jump or fly but walk from one head to another. When away from hair they soon die and cannot live in bedding or clothes.
Head lice can be difficult to spot, even when the head is closely inspected. They’re very small whitish or grey-brown insects that range from the size of a pinhead to the size of a sesame seed. The only way to be sure someone has head lice is to find a live louse by combing their hair with a special fine-toothed comb. This is called detection combing. There’s no need for children to stay off school, or to wash laundry on a hot wash.
Less reliable signs of head lice include:
There’s nothing you can do to prevent head lice. You can reduce the risk of lice spreading by avoiding head-to-head contact and tying long hair up. Do not use medicated lotions and sprays to prevent head lice. This can irritate the scalp.
The following treatments aren’t recommended because they are unlikely to work:
You can use medicated lotions and sprays that kill head lice in all types of hair. You can buy these from pharmacies, supermarkets or online. Lotions and sprays come with a comb to remove dead lice and eggs.
Alternatively, you can use a detection comb which is a special fine-toothed plastic comb you can buy from your pharmacy, supermarket or online. Detection combing can be carried out on dry or wet hair. Dry combing takes less time, but wet combing is more accurate because washing with conditioner stops head lice moving.
To use the wet detection method:
If you find head lice, you should check the rest of your family. Treat everyone found to have head lice on the same day.
You can treat head lice without seeing a GP, but if you feel you need some advice please speak with your pharmacy.
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