Ban­ish­ing head lice from your home

Hair clean­li­ness does not pre­vent ‘nits’

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The men­tion of them is enough to have even the most ro­bust of us screw­ing up our faces and squirm­ing in our seats and they are the bane of any par­ent with young pre-school and school age chil­dren.

Head lice (or ‘‘nits’’) are small in­sects that live on peo­ple’s scalps and lay their eggs on sep­a­rate strands of hair and spread by crawl­ing from one per­son’s hair to an­other’s.

They’re usu­ally spread amongst peo­ple who are in close con­tact, such as fam­ily or school class­mates.

Any­one can be in­fested, and there is no ob­vi­ous re­la­tion­ship to hair clean­li­ness. How­ever, par­ents who wash their chil­dren’s hair fre­quently will find them quicker.

If your child has head lice, you should let their school know. If there is a head­lice out­break, the school may in­form par­ents and care­givers, or send in­for­ma­tion home to re­mind par­ents about head­lice.

Chil­dren should not be ex­cluded from school be­cause of head­lice.

If head­lice are a par­tic­u­lar prob­lem in any school the public health nurse may as­sist the school to pro­vide in­for­ma­tion and ad­vice to par­ents.

Signs of head lice

Two com­mon signs of head lice are:

An ex­tremely itchy scalp, es­pe­cially around the nape of the neck, be­hind the ears, un­der the fringe and at the top of plaits or a pony tail

Scratch marks or a rash on the scalp.

How to check for head lice

Check the per­son’s scalp for in­sects or eggs.

Use a fine-tooth comb on wet hair, as this makes it eas­ier to find any lice.

Pay par­tic­u­lar at­ten­tion to the crown and the hair­line – es­pe­cially at the back of their neck and be­hind their ears.


The two most com­mon head lice treat­ment meth­ods are ‘‘wet comb­ing’’ and ‘‘chem­i­cal treat­ment’’.

Wet comb­ing – wet the hair and scalp with con­di­tioner (this makes it eas­ier to see the head lice) then comb the lice and eggs out. It’s best to use the fine metal combs or spe­cial head lice combs you can get from a phar­macy.

Chem­i­cal sham­poo or lo­tion (con­tain­ing in­sec­ti­cide) – this will kill the lice and eggs.

Al­ways re-treat 7-10 days af­ter the first treat­ment, to kill any head lice that may have hatched from eggs that sur­vived the first treat­ment.

Other treat­ments of un­proven ef­fi­cacy in­clude elec­tric combs, herbal/es­sen­tial oils and en­zyme treat­ments.


Brush your hair ev­ery day, as this can help to kill or in­jure lice and stop them from lay­ing eggs. If you have long hair it is best to bend your head for­ward with your hair hang­ing down and use a firm bris­tled brush.

Don’t share brushes, combs, head­bands, rib­bons, hair­clips, hel­mets or hats – ba­si­cally any­thing that has di­rect con­tact with some­one’s head.

Hav­ing short hair – or wear­ing your hair in a pony­tail if it’s long – makes it less likely you’ll catch head lice.

In sports or swim­ming pool chang­ing rooms, it’s best for chil­dren to keep their clothes sep­a­rate from other chil­dren’s.

If you do get head lice in your fam­ily, treat ev­ery­one that has them at the same time, as this can help re­duce the chance of re­in­fes­ta­tion.

Reg­u­larly check your chil­dren for head lice – eg, ev­ery week.

Un­for­tu­nately it’s not pos­si­ble to com­pletely pre­vent head lice.

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