The Myths, Facts, And How To Treat Head Lice
Head lice, often referred to as ‘nits’ (which are actually the louse eggs), are extremely common in kids. And (purportedly due in part to the ‘selfie generation’) the problem is now spreading among adolescents too.
Head lice are tiny parasitic insects that live among human hairs; feeding on minuscule amounts of blood drawn from the scalp. They're annoying, and sometimes tough to get rid of; but are not actually dangerous, as they are not known to spread disease.
But how do we divide the fact from fiction, when it comes to the nemesis of parents everywhere? We’re here to break through some of the confusion:
Only dirty children get head lice. FALSE.
The Truth: Head lice are not picky about their victims, and will happily infest children from all walks of life. This means that anyone can get head lice, no matter how clean their hair is (lice can't just be washed out,) where they live, or what school they go to. All it takes is head-to-head contact with someone who has head lice.
Head lice can survive for weeks on furniture, carpets, or clothing. FALSE.
The Truth: Head lice cannot survive away from the human body; as they need a blood meal every few hours, and the warmth of the scalp to survive. When off the human body, lice cannot survive for more than 24 to 36 hours.
Lice can jump or fly from one head to another. FALSE.
The Truth: Head lice cannot fly, because they have no wings; and can’t jump between heads either. Occasionally they may be dislodged from the head by air movement and give the appearance of flying; but head to head contact is the only way they easily move between hosts.
All children with head lice scratch or itch. FALSE.
The Truth: The main cause of scratching, is if children have a slight reaction to the louse saliva. Initial head lice infestation could otherwise produce no signs, or symptoms, for 4 to 6 weeks; so your child might have head lice, but not be aware of it. That’s why regular checks are so important.
If my child is scratching his head, it means he definitely has head lice. FALSE.
The Truth: Itching might be a sign that someone has head lice, but is by no means proof; as there are many other causes, including dandruff, and reaction to new hair products. You can diagnose head lice only if you identify a living louse. Even nits are often empty shells, and may not be an active infestation.
Head lice prefer long hair. FALSE.
The Truth: As with the question of cleanliness, it’s important to remember that lice aren’t fussy: Super short, or long; clean or dirty. All lice care about is living on a scalp.
You can get head lice from pets (and vice versa). FALSE.
The Truth: Lice cannot be transmitted from animals, and animals cannot get them from people; so it’s safe to keep getting cuddles from your pets.
Head lice carry, and transmit disease. FALSE.
The Truth: The good news, is that lice have not been shown to spread disease. That said, they can be extremely bothersome. Children who have head lice can experience intense itching, and develop a rash from the bites; and the skin can become infected from scratching. They can feel irritable and have trouble sleeping because they are itchy.
Kids only get head lice from school. FALSE.
The Truth: This is a common misconception, because lice are more common in school age children. In fact, kids get head lice wherever they have direct head-to-head contact or share personal items; such as combs, bedding, or hair accessories. The most common sources of head lice infestations apart from school, are day-care, slumber parties and sports activities; among others.
Head lice are extremely contagious, and children who are diagnosed with head lice should be isolated until all the nits are gone. FALSE
The Truth. As head lice are spread through direct head-to-head contact rather than just close proximity, transmission can be prevented by not sharing personal items and avoiding close contact. Isolation, or keeping children out of school, is not necessary once the problem itself is being treated. In fact, research shows ‘no-nit’ policies do not decrease the number of cases of head lice; but do affect the number of days children spend out of school, and the negative social stigma associated with head lice.
So what do you do to get rid of them? All it takes is three simple steps:
- Check your children’s heads once a week
- Use a ‘detection comb’, preferably white in colour, so they can easily be seen.
- If you find live lice, consult with your local Pharmacy for treatment advice.
- If headlice are spotted, ensure you check the rest of the family (including yourself,) and ask close family/friends to check as well.
Why check regularly? Head lice reproduce very quickly, and females can lay up to 10 eggs a day. The eggs are usually found near the hair root, close to the scalp, and can be difficult to remove. So, the earlier you detect head lice the easier you can get rid of them all.
- Only Treat if live lice are identified.
- Use a clinically proven treatment. Those with a physical mode of action (rather than chemical) present no known risk of lice resistance.
- Leave the treatment on for the recommended time, for maximum effect: Leaving it on longer than this will not make it more effective.
- Check that all headlice have gone within 2-3 days of the final application, to complete the treatment.
- If pack instructions say that a second application is required, repeat the application 7 days after the first; to kill off any lice that have hatched since the initial treatment.
- The remaining nits need to be removed; so to avoid hair breakage and to ensure easy removal, choose a gel based product carrying lubricant oil; which loosens the bond between the egg and the hair, allowing them to slide easily onto the comb.
- Continue regular checks following the all clear.
- Regular use of a leave-in conditioning repellent spray (1% octanediol) is clinically proven to protect against infestations, and can prevent future outbreaks before they have a chance to spread.
This article has kindly been sponsored by Lyclear, the No1* pharmacy brand for Headlice Treatment, and Prevention. For more information go to www.lyclear.ie or pop into your local pharmacy.
As with any pharmaceutical head lice treatments, Lyclear Sensitive, Shampoo & Spray are medical devices: Use insect repellents safely. Always read the label and product information before use.
*IMS MAT Volume Sales June 2017