What Is Head Lice?
Head lice are small round insects that live in the scalp. They cause itching and sometimes itchy red bumps on your head. Head lice are spread through contact with another person’s blood or body fluids such as saliva, urine, sweat, tears and even vomit. If they get into your scalp, they will hatch and feed on your skin. After a few days, the adult louse dies and the next generation grows up to grow old and die.
How Do You Get Head Lice?
You may have been bitten by someone else with head lice or you might have picked them yourself from clothes or bedding that were infested. Other ways include:
Being outdoors during the winter months when there is less protection against cold weather;
Having close contact with children under five years of age;
Living in a house where other family members have head lice; and/or
Getting pregnant while infected.
Head Lice Symptoms & Signs Head lice symptoms usually appear within one week after being bitten by an infected person.
The adult louse is a small grey-white creature that lives on the scalp and lays eggs. It has 6 legs and is 2-3mm long. The eggs (nits) are smaller (1-2mm) and often look like dandruff at the base of the hair closest to the scalp.
You may see live lice or nits on your child’s head. The adult lice are active and can move quickly. You may see them moving from one side of the scalp to the other or even in your child’s hair.
The nits are usually attached to the hair very close to the scalp and cannot move around.
Head Lice Treatment The best way to treat head lice is with a prescription lotion which contains 1% Pyrethrins and either 0.5% Permethrin or 4% Phenothrin. You should not use a lotion containing permethrin if your child is under two years of age.
A common brand of lotion containing 1% pyrethrin is Prioderm which can be bought over the counter in pharmacies.
You can also use a shampoo such as Nix which contains 0.43% Pyrethrin.
Using a conditioner (leave-in treatment) containing 0.1-0.53% Pyrethrin can be effective in treating lice.
These products should be applied from the roots to the tips of the hair and left on for at least eight hours. The lotion will need to be washed off after this time.
You should ask your pharmacist whether the lotion or shampoo is suitable for your child’s age and skin type.
What Are The Other Treatment Options?
If you are pregnant or a child under two years of age, you can ask your pharmacist whether there are any other treatment options. You could also try a natural remedy such as mayonnaise, olive oil or coconut oil.
In addition, you should carefully check your child’s scalp for live lice and nits after seven days. If there are still lice or eggs present, you should re-treat the hair.
What Else Should You Know?
If you are pregnant or a child under two years of age, your pharmacist can advise you on the best treatment option for you.
If you are in the first four days of treatment, it is best to treat all household members at the same time to prevent lice spreading. You should also check all family members for head lice and nits after seven days.
If you don’t get rid of the lice, you should see your doctor for advice.
You should never use a lotion or shampoo on your child if the packaging or instructions say it is not suitable for their age or skin type.
Sources & references used in this article:
Head lice resistant to pyrethroid insecticides in Britain. by IF Burgess, CM Brown, S Peock… – BMJ: British Medical …, 1995 – ncbi.nlm.nih.gov
Clinical update on resistance and treatment of Pediculosis capitis by TL Meinking – Am J Manag Care, 2004 – ajmc.s3.amazonaws.com
Method and device for the detection and removal of head lice by BL Thorne – US Patent 6,006,758, 1999 – Google Patents
Head lice by BL Frankowski, LB Weiner… – Pediatrics, 2002 – Am Acad Pediatrics
An assessment of topical and oral prescription and over-the-counter treatments for head lice by CG Burkhart, CN Burkhart, KM Burkhart – … of the American Academy of …, 1998 – Elsevier