Long haired girl treated for head lice

Head lice

What are head lice?

Head-lice, also known as nits, are the bane of many parents existence.. They are tiny parasitic insects without wings that live on the scalp of humans. Adult head lice are about 2-3 mm long, brown in colour, with 6 legs, each with a claw at the end – they are able to reproduce after approximately 17 days and lay around 3-8 eggs every day. Hatchlings are smaller and more translucent. They crawl quickly and can transfer easily between children especially during hugging and playing head to head. Head lice cannot fly,jump or swim.
The presence of nits is not a sign of poor hygiene; in fact it’s more a sign of bad luck.

How do I check if my child has head lice?

Unfortunately, a simple visual check isn’t always sufficient to detect them. Often, the first parents know of a head lice’s existence is when their child complains of an itchy scalp (lice do not always cause itching), or when they receive formal notification from their child’s daycare or school. This usually occurs well into the infestation.

The easiest way to check for headlice is:

  1. Comb hair white conditioner (the cheaper the better) on to dry, brushed (detangled) hair. This stuns the lice and makes it difficult for them to grip the hair or crawl around.
  2. Now comb sections of the hair with a fine tooth, head lice comb.
  3. Wipe the conditioner from the comb onto a white paper towel or tissue.
  4. Look on the tissue and on the comb for lice and eggs.
  5. Repeat the combing for every part of the head at least four or five times.

Checking for nit eggs

The louse eggs are tiny (about the size of a grain of salt) and attach to the base of the hair shaft. Behind the ears and the base of the neck are common places for nits to lay their eggs.You may need to use your finger nails to “pinch” and remove them from the hair shaft. You’ll be able to recognise a “live” nit egg as you can pop it between your finger nails, whereas a dead egg is empty and collapses more easily.

Head lice treatments

A new recommendation from Australia’s cleaning guru, Shannon Lush, is to use orange juice (pure, not concentrated juice or “fruit drink”) in conjunction with the tried and tested “condition and comb” method.

According to Lush, “Orange juice is such a toxic insecticide, the lice will die.” For parents who have concerns about using chemicals on their child’s hair this is an excellent place to start head lice treatments. You can use Shannon Lush’s treatment plan below.

  1. While hair conditioner doesn’t kill lice, it stuns them, meaning they do not move around, and it’s difficult for them to hang on. This gives parents time to comb through the hair with a lice comb – nits appear to be stunned for about 20 minutes .You need a pure orange juice, a bottle of conditioner, a fine head-lice comb and a box of tissues. These can be purchased from your local pharmacy.
  2. Simply pour orange juice over your child’s hair like shampoo and leave it on for 10 minutes
  3. Run a lice comb through the hair. The juice kills the live lice and loosens the eggs so they should strip straight off the hair
  4. You should make sure that the combs you use are soaked in hot water as lice die in hot water at 60C in 30 seconds
  5. On the following day, apply generous amounts of conditioner to your child’s hair.
  6. Brush through your child’s hair firstly using a regular brush. This will make fine combing much less stressful for your child.
  7. Comb your child’s hair in sections from the scalp to the tip of the hair
  8. Check the comb after each brush through to see if nits are present
  9. You will need to repeat this process every 2 days until no live lice have been found for 10 days.

If you find that this method is not working for your child you should consult with your pharmacist as to what other treatments are suitable for them. There are plenty of treatments on the market. It is important to use them exactly as it says on the container. Some may need to be on for at least 8 hours, while some need only a few minutes.

Other practical steps parents can take are to ensure you tie your child’s hair back and use hairspray on it every day. Alternatively, a small spray of tea tree oil on your child’s hair on a daily basis is an excellent way to repel them. Parents should check all family members, including themselves as well for signs of head-lice and treat accordingly.

The jury is out on whether it is necessary to wash all the sheets and towels. Lice do not live for very long off the scalp. But it’s probably a good idea to wash the pillowcase as precaution.