When children return to school after the holidays we often see a real uplift in requests for advice on detection and treatment of the dreaded head lice!
Head lice are tiny grey/brown, wingless insects and are the size of a pinhead when hatched and of a sesame seed when fully grown. Head lice are a common problem, particularly in school children who are four to 11 years of age, however anyone can be affected. Contrary to popular belief they cannot fly, jump or swim but are spread by head-to-head contact only, climbing from the hair of an infected person to the hair of someone else. Having head lice has nothing to do with personal hygiene. Head lice can live on all types of hair and no preference exists between clean or dirty hair.
The most widely suffered symptom of head lice is an itchy scalp. This is not caused by the lice biting, but by an allergy to the lice. However, not everyone is allergic to head lice, so you or your child may not notice a head lice infestation.
Detection is a crucial stage as only those people with live lice should be treated. Un-hatched eggs or nits alone are not enough to diagnose an active head lice infestation. Once head lice are found it is important to treat them with an appropriate product and to follow the directions carefully to ensure success.
There are a number of products available and all products will treat the head lice as long as they are used according to the manufacturer’s directions and advice.
Many people are not aware that treatments for head lice (such as Hedrin) are available throughout the pharmacy network on the Minor Ailments Service. So no need to visit your GP for a prescription, you can avail of treatment and advice from your local pharmacy. If required the pharmacist will supply a head lice treatment free of charge to you and will discuss how to get the greatest benefit from your treatment.
In recent years repellent products have also become available such as Hedrin Protect and Go spray. They help protect children from the parasites by breaking the life cycle and killing lice before an infestation can be established.
Richard Dunn is a community pharmacist with Gordons Chemists. The content of this article is for general information only and is not for diagnostic purposes and should not be treated as such.