Health & Wellbeing


George Tambassis Image: Contributed

Outwit the nits

Parents of school-age children, especially younger children, are all too aware of the ever-present threat of head lice which seem to be part-and-parcel of the school experience for many children. Schools are an environment where head lice proliferate and parents are often at their wit’s end trying to find ways to get rid of them. Catching head lice does not mean your child has done anything wrong or is not hygienic. Statistics indicate that more than 20 per cent of primary school students are likely to have head lice. A single infested head can effortlessly infest a whole classroom and when the children return home they often unwittingly pass the infestation on to the rest of the family. Adding to the problem is the fact that many of the age-old remedies for getting rid of head lice just don’t seem to work as the lice are evolving into ‘super’ bugs that increasingly are resistant to the treatments which in the past have successfully got rid of them. While head lice are pretty harmless in themselves, the presence of any insects in our children’s hair – or our own hair – demands attention. The problem is that this is often easier said than done. Head lice are wingless creatures which cannot fly or even jump but move from host to host by crawling or climbing. Close contact between children therefore gives them great opportunities to spread but it is important to understand that head lice are not confined to children. In fact, anyone can get head lice but they are more common in children because of the close contact children have with each other. Of course when children have them they are likely to bring them home and infest other family members. Having found head lice in your or your child’s hair, the next step is to try to get rid of them. Your community pharmacy stocks special combs as well as shampoos, conditioners, creams and other products to treat head lice infestation. National President of the Pharmacy Guild of Australia George Tambassis says there are chemical-based treatments available as well as a number of treatments which are based on essential oils such as anise, rosemary, lavender, and tea tree oil. There also are a range of herbal products. “The wide variety of active ingredients available is due to the fact that head lice are very adaptable and can develop resistance to some chemicals,” Mr Tambassis says. “For this reason it is important to talk to your community pharmacist about which is the right product for you or your child. “Your pharmacist has the experience and training to make sure you get the best treatment.” After selecting a treatment it is important that following use of the product you test if the lice are dead. This is because you need to be sure what you are using is working on the lice. While resistance is an issue, many treatment failures are due to inadequate time in contact with hair and scalp, inappropriate application methods, or the use of ineffective products. Ask your pharmacist to recommend an evidence-based product – that is one that is proven to be effective – and also to show you how to apply it effectively. Whatever head lice treatment is chosen, a fine toothcomb is essential to get the nits out. If live lice are found in the combings after treatment, it’s possible that the head lice are resistant to the particular product, and retreatment should begin as soon as possible with a product from a different active-ingredient group. If the lice are dead, treat again in seven days using the same product. If the treatment has worked, the lice will be dead within 20 minutes. It is possible a head lice product could cause a reaction and should be used with care by women who are pregnant or breastfeeding, children less than 12 months old and people with allergies, asthma or open wounds on the scalp. Your pharmacist can advise on how best to treat head lice and which products may work best for you or your children.