Head Lice

We’ve had a couple of outbreaks of headlice recently. Please can you check your child's hair carefully and treat if necessary.

How to spot head lice

Head lice can be difficult to spot, even when the head is closely inspected.

They're very small whitish or grey-brown insects that range from the size of a pinhead to the size of a sesame seed.

The only way to be sure someone has head lice is to find a live louse by combing their hair with a special fine-toothed comb. This is called detection combing.

Less reliable signs of head lice include:

  • Small white eggs or nits (egg cases) in the hair behind the ears or at back of the neck
  • an itchy scalp
  • a rash on the back of the neck
  • feeling as though something is moving in the hair

How to get rid of head lice and nits

Treatments to get rid of head lice are available to buy from pharmacies, supermarkets and online. You don't usually need to see your GP.

The main treatments are:

  • lotions or sprays that kill head lice – these can be very effective, but some aren't suitable for pregnant or breastfeeding women, or for children under two
  • removing head lice with a specially designed comb – this is suitable for everyone and relatively inexpensive, but needs to be repeated several times and can take a long time to do thoroughly. Instructions on how to do this effectively are below.

A pharmacist can advise you about the treatments available if you're not sure which is best for you or your child. Make sure you carefully follow the instructions that come with the treatment carefully .

The only way to be certain that you or your child has head lice is to find a live louse.

Spotting head lice in hair can be very difficult, so it's best to try to comb them out with a detection comb.

Detection combs are special fine-toothed plastic combs that you can buy from your local pharmacy, supermarket or online. A comb with flat-faced teeth and a tooth spacing of 0.2-0.3mm is best.

Detection combing can be carried out on dry or wet hair. Dry combing takes less time, but wet combing is more accurate because washing with conditioner stops head lice moving.

Wet detection combing

To use the wet detection method:

  • Wash the hair with ordinary shampoo and apply plenty of conditioner.
  • Use an ordinary, wide-toothed comb to straighten and untangle the hair.
  • Once the comb moves freely through the hair without dragging, switch to the louse detection comb.
  • Make sure the teeth of the comb slot into the hair at the roots, with the edge of the teeth lightly touching the scalp.
  • Draw the comb down from the roots to the ends of the hair with every stroke, and check the comb for lice each time – remove lice by wiping the comb with tissue paper or rinsing it.
  • Work through the hair, section by section, so that the whole head of hair is combed through.
  • Do this at least twice to help ensure you haven't missed any areas and continue until you find no more lice.

If you find head lice, you should check the rest of your family. Treat everyone found to have head lice on the same day.

Dry detection combing

To use the dry detection method:

  • Use an ordinary, wide-toothed comb to straighten and untangle the hair.
  • Once the comb moves freely through the hair without dragging, switch to the louse detection comb.
  • Make sure the teeth of the comb slot into the hair at the roots, with the edge of the teeth lightly touching the scalp.
  • Draw the comb down from the crown to the ends of the hair with every stroke.
  • Look for lice as the comb is drawn through the hair. If you see a louse, trap it against the face of the comb with your thumb to stop if being repelled by static electricity.
  • Comb each section of hair three or four times before moving on to the next section, until the whole head has been combed through.

If you find head lice, you should check the rest of your family. Treat everyone found to have head lice on the same day.

Preventing head lice

It's very difficult to prevent head lice. You may want to consider regular detection combing – for example, on a weekly basis – if you're concerned about your children or yourself.

Lotions and sprays don't prevent head lice and should only be used if a live louse has been found in your or your child's hair.

Staying off school and washing clothing and bedding on a hot wash is unnecessary, as it's unlikely to help prevent the spread of head lice.

The best way to prevent the spread of head lice is to tie long hair back whilst in school

For more information on Head Lice please click on the nhs.uk / Head Lice information pages