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Independent Living Skills

Headlice – managing the problem

Headlice, also known as Nits, are an annoying problem for many families while their children are at school or in early childhood education.

If the child comes home with headlice or nits, don’t panic.  Humans have lived with headlice since the beginning of time – 3000-year-old Egyptian mummies have been found with the remains of headlice. They do not mean that the child is dirty in any way. They do not prefer certain hair colours or blood types – these are myths. Headlice need food, humidity and warmth to survive; it is unlikely they will be found alive on car seats, curtains or carpets.

Headlice are small insects approximately 2 to 4 mm long and about 1mm wide. They have six legs with claws and are usually a light or dark brown colour. 

Electric combs

Electric battery-operated combs are available to be used on dry hair. These are claimed to stun or kill the headlice so they let go of the hair and can be combed out. Clean the teeth after each stroke of the comb. Electric combs should be used on alternate days for two or three weeks to break the breeding cycle. People with epilepsy, heart disease or pacemakers should not use them. 

Chemical treatments

Apply the treatment strictly in accordance with the manufacturer’s instructions. Treat those members of the household who appear to be hosting headlice. Do not treat babies with chemicals. Do not wash the hair or use conditioners for at least 24 hours after treating. Treatments are designed to coat the hair shaft and should be allowed to remain. Do not wash chemicals off. Do not use hairdryers on treated hair. The heat may break down the active chemical. Comb the hair carefully to remove as many dead or live headlice and eggs as possible. Follow the directions on the packet. Check all members of the household daily for a period of three weeks.    

Dry combingThis method is for the removal of headlice and eggs.

Use a metal fine-toothed comb. Fingernails can also effectively remove eggs. Individual strands of hair can be cut to remove difficult eggs. Some combs will extract adult headlice only and leave: the closer together the teeth of the comb, the more successful combing will be .

Wet combing

Using a hair conditioner, wet combing is for the detection and removal of headlice and eggs. It is recommended that this treatment be repeated on alternate days for three weeks. The idea is to smother the headlice with conditioner, preventing them moving away, and to allow manual removal. Do not use conditioner within a day of using a chemical treatment; it will make the chemical treatment ineffective.

Apply enough conditioner (much more than usual) on dry hair to thoroughly cover the whole scalp and all the hair from the roots to the tips. Keep the conditioner in the hair. Conditioner stuns the insects for about 20 minutes. Using an ordinary comb, comb the hair through to get any knots out, then use a fine-toothed comb to systematically comb the hair. Comb the full length of each hair. Wipe the comb with a clean tissue after each stroke of the comb. After thorough combing and inspection, wash the conditioner out. If the child has asthma or is very young ask your doctor what treatment to use