Health note­book

How to spot head lice Scritch, scratch, here’s how to spot the signs of head lice and treat the lit­tle suck­ers

Mother & Baby (Australia) - - Contents -

How to check for and treat head lice, plus tips for man­ag­ing ezcema

What are they?

Head lice (Pedicu­lus hu­manus capi­tis) are small, wing­less in­sects that live and feed on the hu­man scalp, while nits are the eggs of the adult head lice. While they can be un­pleas­ant to deal with, they are harm­less and do not pose a threat to your child, nor are they an in­di­ca­tion of how clean your fam­ily or home is.

What are the symp­toms?

The most com­mon symp­tom of head lice is itch­ing and scratch­ing around the nape of the neck and be­hind the ears. Some chil­dren will scratch these ar­eas to the point where the skin breaks and bleeds. Some peo­ple who con­tract lice do not scratch, so it’s im­por­tant to ex­am­ine – and if nec­es­sary, treat – ev­ery mem­ber of the fam­ily. Ex­am­ine the scalp and look for the small white oval-shaped or brown eggs (nits) and tan-coloured head lice. The adult lice can move quickly, so you may need to use a fine-toothed lice comb to find them.

How do you get them?

Head lice are eas­ily trans­mit­ted from one per­son to an­other. They can­not fly or hop, they sim­ply crawl from one head to an­other. They do not dis­crim­i­nate be­tween clean, dirty, straight or curly hair. They are com­mon in preschool and school-aged chil­dren be­cause kids’ heads are often close to­gether as they play or do their school­work.

What can you do?

There are two meth­ods you can use to treat head lice; the ‘comb and con­di­tioner’ method, or chem­i­cal re­moval. The first method in­volves ap­ply­ing a thick layer of con­di­tioner to the en­tire head and scalp, then me­thod­i­cally comb­ing through to re­move nits and head lice. Chem­i­cal re­moval in­volves ap­ply­ing a treat­ment from the chemist to the hair, and again comb­ing through thor­oughly. Which­ever op­tion you choose, you will need to re­peat the treat­ment at least once, seven days af­ter the ini­tial treat­ment, to en­sure the life cy­cle of the head lice is broken. Check with your GP or phar­ma­cist be­fore treat­ing un­der-twos as some treat­ments may not be suit­able for their scalps, and don't use chem­i­cal treat­ments on your­self if you're preg­nant or breast­feed­ing. There is no need to fu­mi­gate your house or wash all tow­els and bed­ding as lice can­not live for very long away from a hu­man head. Sim­ply treat and check ev­ery­one in the fam­ily reg­u­larly, and wash hats and pil­low­cases in hot wa­ter. Avoid shar­ing combs and brushes and tie long hair up.

When to see your GP?

Bring your child to see the doc­tor if he is scratch­ing and itch­ing a lot and it is dis­turb­ing his sleep; if sores de­velop on the scalp or if the head lice re­cur more than three or four times in a 12-month pe­riod.

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