Head lice are small, parasitic, blood-sucking insects that only live on human heads. They are whitish-brown to reddish brown in colour. Lice eggs (called nits) are tiny yellow, tan, or brown dots found close to the scalp. These eggs may look similar to dandruff but they are attached to hair with incredibly strong glue.
Head lice do not have wings or jumping legs and they cannot survive off the human head for more than a few hours. They are spread from direct hair to hair contact with another person who has head lice. This can happen when people play, cuddle, or work closely together.
Finding Head Lice
Head lice is commonly associated with an itchy scalp, however this is an unreliable sign. Itchiness is a reaction from the saliva of lice so it depends on how sensitive the skin is. The most effective method of detection is using the 'conditioner and combing' technique:
- Comb any type of hair conditioner on to dry, brushed (detangled) hair. This stuns the lice and makes it difficult for them to grip the hair or crawl around.
- Now comb sections of the hair with a fine tooth, head lice comb.
- Wipe the conditioner from the comb onto a paper towel or tissue.
- Look on the tissue and on the comb for lice and eggs.
- Repeat the combing for every part of the head at least four or five times
Treating Head Lice
Hair should only be treated if lice or eggs are found.
There is currently no effective preventative treatment available, so treating members of the family who do not have head lice has no effect and can contribute to the problem of lice building up resistance to the chemical treatments.
There are two ways of treating head lice:
- Buying and using a head lice lotion or shampoo, following the instructions on the product
- Using the conditioner and comb method (described under ‘finding head lice’) every second day until there have been no live lice found for ten days.
- No single treatment kills all of the eggs, so two applications are required, 7 days apart.
- If you still find live lice, the treatment may not have worked. Either use another product with a different active ingredient, or use the 'conditioner and combing' technique.
- Make sure to wash bedding in hot water (at least 60°C) or dry using a clothes dryer on hot or warm setting NSW
- Babies under 12 months, pregnant or breast feeding women, or people with irritated or inflamed scalps should not be treated with chemicals. Consult your health professional for advice.
- Tying long hair back or braiding it may help reduce the transmission of lice.
- Head lice combs should be cleaned between treatments in hot soapy water and rinsed in running hot water.
For more information on Head Lice please contact the friendly staff at Appin Compounding Pharmacy
Tina Thao Nguyen
1. NSW Health, Head Lice Information for parents and carers, url: http://www.mhcs.health.nsw.gov.au/publicationsandresources/pdf/publication-pdfs/diseases-and-conditions/5570/doh-5570-eng.pdf, accessed 9/3/17.
2. Department of Health & Human Services, Treating and Controlling Head Lice, 2010, url: https://www2.health.vic.gov.au/getfile/?sc_itemid=%7b96001E73-55D1-46F3-9E40-B81526ADD79D%7d&title=Treating%20and%20controlling%20headlice, accessed 9/3/17.
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