Tuesday 21 May 2019

Top tips to rid the kids of head lice

Extremely common, and a real nuisance, head lice are on the march

Mother treating daughter's hair against lice
Mother treating daughter's hair against lice
Fine combing needs to be done daily, and can be aided by using lots of conditioner to make it easier to get through the hair and get the eggs to slip off.
Dr Ciara Kelly

Dr Ciara Kelly

'Again?" asked the pharmacist when I rocked into my local chemist and asked for a well-known head- lice treatment. "Yes" I said grimly. "You're not alone," he said, by way of comfort, "it's walking off the shelves."

Head lice, more often referred to as nits, are extremely common in kids and - since the rise of the selfie and teenagers putting their heads together for photos - now in adolescents too.

Anyone who reads my column will already know how I feel about all things creepy crawly - so suffice to say I'm not a fan of nits. One of the real difficulties in eradicating head lice, is the need for mass treatment - it's not much good you doing little Johnny's' head, if he goes back to school and sits beside little Charlie who hasn't been treated.

My ever helpful pharmacist informs me that since our Public Health Nurses no longer treat outbreaks of head lice they've been rampant, as failure to treat all in a group at the same time, results in recurrent spread. I know of more than one instance of class reps being asked to 'sort out' errant parents who aren't treating their kids. It can cause a fair bit of controversy at the school gates.

Read more: 'Little girl had so much headlice, her head was moving' - school principal tells court

So how do you get rid of head lice and, more importantly, can you prevent them?

It's best to have a high index of suspicion about them. Nits are common, and you should check your kids' heads any time they scratch or in general about once a fortnight.

You often won't see a louse with your naked eye but the eggs or 'nits' are usually visible like tiny white tear drops stuck firmly to the hair shaft - often on deeper hairs at the nape of the neck or above the ears. New eggs mean live lice, and need to be treated as soon as possible.

Read more: Could selfies be contributing to head lice among teenagers?

There are multiple over-the-counter preparations available - all of which involve applying a solution to the head and washing it off. But that's when the real hard work starts - the fine combing. Lice are killed by the treatments, but eggs can survive and later hatch, so they need to be 'fine combed' out. And on a long-haired child that can be a nightmare that puts many parents off.

I remember back in my paeds days, a young girl with very long hair who was an in-patient in an isolation room, being fine combed twice a day, by two nurses, in full infection control garb, while the nits literally hopped off her head. Her mother had refused to cut her hair or do the fine combing and she'd been admitted to hospital in an attempt to sort it out.

Fine combing needs to be done daily, and can be aided by using lots of conditioner to make it easier to get through the hair and get the eggs to slip off. After seven days you should treat again to catch any newly hatched eggs - then repeat fine combing all over again for another seven days until no lice or eggs remain - which can take about three weeks!

Read more: We Hate/Hate the nitty nits

Throw into the mix contact during that time with an untreated head and you're straight back to square one! You can see why parents get frustrated.

Prevention isn't easy, but there are things you can do to minimise your chances of unwelcome visitors. Long hair should be tied back at school as lice do jump from head to head. Leave-in conditioners with tea tree or citrus do work to repel the lice that apparently don't like the smell. Bless!

Read more: Head lice an itchy breeder in children

Also don't be a nitwit. Tell the school when your child has them. That way, it can notify other parents so they can take steps to sort it in their own kids if needs be.


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