It’s back to school – and back to nights of combing through children’s hair, looking for uninvited guests… Yes, it’s open season for head lice again… And if you’re suffering with a break out, you have my sympathy.
I can remember head lice taking over our lives when my oldest daughter was in primary school.
We were once heading off to a birthday party when a renegade louse made the mistake of poking its head out of my daughter’s fringe, prompting a swift return into the house and straight up to the bathroom for a last minute hair wash and combing session – and that was at a time when we were trying to keep on top of the problem with comb-throughs every three days…
I must have missed one!
Even when you think you’ve got rid of them all, there will be some eggs waiting to be hatched – so tiny and so close to the scalp that they are bound to be missed. We ended up having to pay a hairdresser to come to our house after a hair salon turned my daughter away because their stylist had spotted empty eggs shells (nits) in her hair. Most embarrassing!
After that, I did all the research I could – until I felt like a head lice expert. And though it was not really the ideal subject for dinner parties I soon found I wasn’t the only mother obsessed with the little terrors.
Need to know
As we all agreed, knowledge was power – and eventually that power helped us win the battle of the head lice hell. So, if you’re still in the early stages of shock, having discovered an infestation in your child’s hair for the first time, here are a few facts to help you understand and deal with head lice hell.
- Head lice are extremely common – affecting an estimated one in three children at some time during the school year.
- They’re notoriously hard to spot – just the size of a pinhead when hatched, and the size of a sesame seed when fully grown.
- They’re not a sign that your child is dirty – but nor is it true that ‘lice favour clean hair’. They will happily live on any hair, regardless of its condition, or length (the eggs are laid as close to the scalp as possible and “glued” to individual hairs).
- The average life span of a head louse is three weeks. If you spot one falling out of your child’s hair, it is probably dying of old age!
- A seven day old female will start to lay eggs and these will hatch within another seven to ten days, leaving their shells (nits) glued to the hairs they were laid on. Often these nits do not become apparent until the hair has grown out – by which time your child could have been infested for many weeks.
- Itching is not always a symptom – it’s caused by an allergy to head lice, and not everyone is allergic. For this reason, when the school warns of a head lice problem and asks parents to check their children’s hair, it’s crucial that everyone does so vigilantly. Otherwise undetected infestations risk perpetuating the problem when children huddle together to work or play (head lice travel from head to head when hair touches).
- The best way to detect the lice – and treat them – is to wash and condition the hair then, while it’s still wet, painstakingly comb through every section (starting as close to the scalp as you can). Use a very fine toothed ‘detection’ comb, with teeth spaced less than 0.3mm apart to trap the smallest lice.
- Don’t see over the counter products as an alternative to thorough combing, however tempting that may be. As they tend not to be 100% effective – indeed lice are resistant to some insecticides – they should be seen as an add-on to help deal with the problem rather than the total solution.
- Finally, remember that despite the fact that head lice mainly affect children of primary school age, adults are not immune – and, if you’ve been cuddling your child, you should treat your own hair just as thoroughly – or you could be the one passing the problem back to the school!