You’ve got the head lice letter home from school and then… you find them – unwelcome visitors on your child’s HEAD!
But once the initial panic is replaced by calm, you probably find you have oh-so-many questions about these beasties now lurking in your child’s hair.
Here we answer a few of the most common questions about nits and head lice so you can work out how best to tackle those little blighters…
1. Do head lice jump?
A good question. How do they get from one head to another? Do they have wings?
MadeForMums doctor and family GP Dr Philippa Kaye, has the answer:
“Head lice can’t jump or fly. Instead they literally walk from the hair of one person to the next, so are commonly spread among children who bend their heads together while they play and do school work.”
And by walk, by the way, Dr Philippa means that they can actually move relatively quickly: they can run at about 30cm per minute so can be difficult to find.
2. What’s the difference between nits and lice again?
Many people think nits and head lice are the same thing – but there’s a difference and it’s worth knowing about.
Nits are the name given to the eggs that lice lay. Once the eggs are hatched, they go from translucent to a white colour which makes them easier to spot.
Nits are often the first thing we notice when there is a lice infestation and can sometimes be mistaken for dandruff.
Lice are what comes out of the hatched egg. They are a six-legged parasite.
3. Can you be allergic to nits and head lice?
Many people are allergic to the saliva of lice when they bite or the sticky “glue” from their eggs.
This is the main cause of itching and can range from mild to severe. The less allergic you are, the longer it may take to start itching.
4. Do you always have an itchy head with nits and head lice?
There won’t always be itching, no. As we’ve touched on in the question above – it all depends on how allergic you are to lice bites.
People who are not allergic or have built up immunity from previous infestations can experience little to no itching.
5. Will nits or head lice go away on their own?
Sorry – but no. You will have to take some action or your head becomes their permanent home.
On our forum, VictoriaCakey offers the following advice: “I’m a big believer in using the proper treatment, as it seems you can comb and comb forever and still if you haven’t got just one of those eggs out, or killed it with the treatment, the cycle just starts all over again.”
Dr Philippa agrees: “The infestation won’t go away on its own without treatment, of which there are various options available.”
6. Should you throw away your bedding and comb after you’ve had nits and head lice?
As much as you’d like every last trace of those little blighters gone – this isn’t necessary.
Dr Phillipa explains: “Unlike with threadworms you don’t need to wash linens, clothes, soft toys etc if your child has had head lice, as the lice don’t survive long after leaving the scalp.”
There may be nits – the empty egg cases, or dead lice – on towels, so it’s a good idea to wash these (though dead lice and egg cases won’t spread nits or head lice – phew!), and you should clean hairbrushes and combs in hot water for 10 minutes.
7. Do you get nits and head lice because your hair is dirty?
No, you don’t. This one is a myth – so please don’t feel that your child having head lice has anything to do with that time you couldn’t deal with the struggle of hair wash day.
As Dr Philippa says: “Head lice are not more common in dirty hair at all, though they are found more commonly in long hair, which may explain why they are generally more common in girls, as it is easier for them to transfer to each other.”
She suggests tying long hair up or plaiting it to help reduce infection.
8. Will nits and head lice stay away if you use gel and hairspray in your hair?
Alas, there’s no medical evidence that this makes much difference.
Some people do believe that hairspray or gel will prevent head lice being able to crawl up the hair shaft.
However, once the lice are in your head and laying eggs, they don’t really care what styling products you use. Their mission is to feed and reproduce.
9. Do you get nits and head lice from your dog or cat?
No – you won’t find lice on your cat or dog. Pets are host to a whole different sort of parasite (usually fleas).
Lice dine only on human blood – it’s what they need to survive – the little vampires!
10. Do adults get nits and head lice?
They sure do, especially if they live or work with kids. On our forum, Mum_to_1 shares her story:
“Just to say I’m a teacher and I’ve had them! Was soooo embarrassed and had hubby going through my hair for weeks if not months after, as soon as I felt the slightest itch or saw something white in my hair!”
11. Do you ever need to see the doctor with nits or head lice?
Probably not. If you are having a lot of difficulty identifying what your child has as nits or head lice or can’t eradicate an infestation, a trip to your pharmacist is best.
They will be able to advise you further and most pharmacists have a private consultation area.
12. Do you only get them at certain times of year?
Those little scalp invaders are around all year, alas. You may notice a rise in cases during the warmer months or after school breaks, but many put this down to the fact that these are times when kids play closer together.
13. Will people at school judge us?
There certainly used to be a lot of stigma around having lice, but not anymore.
On our forum audrey1234 shares her childhood story: “I remember when I was a child, I had nits. My mum was so ashamed that she would not let the school know, and I was not allowed to tell anyone.
“Things have changed now though, and more people do alert the school if head lice are found.”
As unpleasant as they may seem, lice are teeny tiny harmless critters and nothing to do with personal hygiene levels.
There’s no need to feel ashamed or overwhelmed. Now that you know the facts about lice, you can take action to prevent or cure an infestation.