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Head lice How, What and Why.

Head lice How, What and Why.

Head Lice

Oh no – My Child Has Head Lice!

When we have children there is perhaps nothing worse than receiving notification from the child’s school that there is an outbreak of lice – or worse still – your own child has head lice!

Lice enjoy clean hair – so if your child has clean, shiny locks, remember that lice love nothing more than spotlessly clean hair.

Lice are a lot more common than one would believe, they don’t discriminate and the presence of lice is no indication of class, status, personal hygiene or any other differentiating factors.

It is far wiser to arm oneself with knowledge and treat the problem as soon as possible to nip the infestation in the bud than to go into a blind panic.

You may be able to see the lice or nits by parting your child's hair into little sections and checking with a fine-tooth comb on the scalp, behind the ears, and around the nape of the neck - and although it's rare for them to be found on eyelashes or eyebrows these most certainly do occur.

A magnifying glass and bright light may help.

What are lice?

  • The head louse is a small parasitic insect that has no wings, is fast-crawling and flourishes amongst human hairs while feeding on tiny amounts of blood drawn from the scalp every three to four hours.
  • Lice are clear in colour but once they have fed, they turn a reddish-brown shade.
  • Adult lice are about 2-3 mm in length (no bigger than a sesame seed) are a greyish –white or tan colour, and their nits (eggs) are about 0.8mm big. Nymphs (these are baby lice)are much smaller than adult lice and become adults about 1- 2 weeks after they hatch.
  • If head lice are left untreated, this process repeats itself every 3 weeks. Most lice feed on blood several times a day, and they can survive up to 2 days off the scalp.
  • The scary part is that lice mate every three to four hours and thus multiply at a rather alarming rate.


  • Lice live anything from 23- 30 days.
  • Lice are irritating, particularly contagious and very tough to be rid of, but are not dangerous.
  • Lice are visible to the naked eye even though they are really quite small.

If you suspect your child has lice this is what you need to look out for:

  • Nits – or eggs of lice – are minuscule and are tan, brown or yellow coloured dots – this is prior to hatching.
  • Nits are laid on hair shafts very close to the scalp where the temperature is ideal for hatching which is in the region of 1-2 weeks after being laid.
  • Nits cannot be removed easily – so brushing and shaking them won’t work.

Signs your child has lice:

  • Once the nits hatch the empty shell remains fastened securely to the hair shaft. This is when it's easiest to spot them, as the hair starts to grow out and the eggshells then move away from the scalp.
  • Itching is one of the signs of lice. When children complain about tickling and things moving on their heads – this is an allergic reaction that is caused by the saliva of the lice – the extent of the itching is dependent on how sensitive the child’s skin is.
  • Little red bumps may be visible when there is a lice infestation. The irritation is mild in some children yet in other children a rash might develop with excessive scratching which can lead to a nasty bacterial infection resulting in swollen glands and red skin that is tender to the touch and might cause oozing and crusting. Antibiotics may be prescribed by your doctor if needed.

Preventing head lice and treating the problem:

  • Speed is of the essence when lice are first detected so that these parasites are not spread.
  • Once treatment is administered to eradicate the lice and the nits, the lice might be killed but the itching won’t go away immediately as the allergy has still to be overcome which will usually take a couple of days.
  • When treating lice, use a treatment pack that contains natural, non-toxic ingredients such as Tea Tree Oil.
  • Invest in an Anti-Lice Nit Comb to comb the hair out repeatedly – this is the most effective method to remove stubborn nits from the shafts of the hair.
  • Once the lice are gone it is important to continue with preventative measures to ensure these are a permanent solution to a very unpleasant problem – consult your doctor or pharmacist for advice on getting rid of lice and what products are best for the job.
  • Take note – some children are symptom-free.
  • Ideally, classmates, friends, relatives and close contacts should also be treated – and the entire class your child attends should also be medicated. Some parents won’t want to go this route but it is advisable that everyone’s hair is examined - this should take place not only once but every couple of days.

When treating lice you need to:

  • Follow the instructions to a “t” to ensure good results.
  • Children under the age of two should have the lice and nits removed by hand instead of using medicated treatments.
  • Some of the treatments contain flammable material – therefore using a hairdryer after application might not be a good idea.
  • For long-term results don’t wash hair after being medicated.
  • Insect sprays are harmful – using them is not a good idea – consult your doctor or pharmacist to get the right kind of safe treatment to get rid of lice.
  • As with fleas, it is a good idea to vacuum your living quarters, wash all your linen and hang these out in the sun for a couple of hours.
  • Clean all brushes and combs in a disinfectant – and never ever lend or borrow hairbrushes or combs.

Once diagnosed it is imperative to ensure your child’s school is informed; this is when it makes sense to check to see if other kids have been treated for lice recently.

You need to find out what the return policy is of your child’s school – even though children are permitted to return after one treatment it is still a good idea to check.

To triumph over these little parasites, it is important to wage war on them and eradicates them permanently by using the right products obtainable from your pharmacy.

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