Mention head lice and most of us will suddenly develop an uncontrollable itch.
These irritating insects are the bane of primary school life, sending despairing parents (and irritable children) into meltdown.
So how do you deal with a head lice infestation? We investigate the tried and tested methods.
Insecticide lotions and sprays
Walk the aisle of your local chemist and you’ll be confronted with all manner of potions and lotions promising to destroy lice and nits. It’s tempting to grab 10 bottles and run.
But according to Choice, “no one product is 100 per cent effective at removing head lice, and no product has been proven to 'repel' head lice in the first place.”
So what does work?
The most effective method recommended by the NSW Department of Health involves painstakingly removing head lice and nits by hand.
You will need:
- A nit comb. These are available at chemists. A round-tipped metal comb works best.
- Cheap white conditioner.
- A roll of paper towels.
- A plastic bag.
- Sit your child on a chair or stool in front of you. Wrap a towel around their shoulders to catch conditioner spill. (You may want to put a video or TV show on, as this process can take a while.)
- Apply a cheap, pale coloured conditioner generously to your child's hair. Work it through to coat every strand of hair. For long hair, it may be easier to tie one side of the hair off, and work in sections.
- Head lice breathe through small openings along their abdomens. By coating the hair and therefore the louse in something thick and slimy, these openings close over, shutting down the louse's breathing for about 20 minutes – long enough for them to stay still and be combed out.
- After you've applied the conditioner, use a large comb to part small sections of the hair, starting from the nape and working upwards toward the crown.
- When the hair is detangled and manageable, use a fine lice comb and run through each section several times. Eggs are often found behind the ears and toward the back of the head. By combing from the bottom of the back of the head up, towards the top and front of the head, you're more likely to find the head lice.
- After each comb out, wipe the conditioner on the paper towel. If your child has head lice, you will see them on the towel (they're a little like small, brown, chia or sesame seeds.)
- Keep combing each section of hair until no further lice or eggs appear on the paper towel. Often you will see lots of old egg casings that may take a while to remove.
- Once you have combed and re-combed each section of hair, either re-plait or tie it back if it's long enough.
- Head lice often congregate on the crown of the head, so it's not until you reach these last sections of hair that you'll find adult lice. However, heads that are severely infected will have adult lice everywhere.
- Repeat at least twice over the next few days, until you can't find any more in the conditioner. You'll never be able to get all the head lice and eggs out the first time. However, in the days after your first treatment, the eggs will hatch and you'll be able to catch the crawling nymphs (young lice).
If you’d rather not deal with head lice yourself, there are professionals who can take care of it for you.
Michael Lawless launched Lice Clinics Australia around the country to “assist families get lice free with the least amount of stress and stop the endless nights spent combing hair.”
Lice Clinics use “a new device that blows warm air at 59.1 degrees through a unique applicator. [It] dehydrates the eggs so they can’t hatch and they are simply combed out.”
"The challenge is killing the eggs and this is why the device is so effective in that it eliminates all eggs so they cannot hatch and stops the hatching cycle," said Mr Lawless.
“This heat treatment which is used in all of the lice clinics takes about 30 minutes and no pesticides or any other harmful toxins are used.”