Head Lice is a common problem in children mainly at the age of around 4-5 years. Head lice are tiny wingless insects that live on the hair of their hosts. They feed on blood obtained from the scalp on average 6 times a day. It is the biting and a reaction to lice saliva that gives rise to the itchiness associated with head lice. Head lice are most commonly found in the hair at the nape of the neck and behind the ears as it is slightly warmer. Head lice can only be spread by head to head contact as they cannot jump or fly. Occasionally lice can be seen in the hair, but it is normally the white empty egg cases – called nits – that are seen stuck to the hair. The first symptom that indicates a person has head lice is an itchy scalp. This can usually be confirmed by combing the hair with a fine comb onto a white sheet of paper when the hair is wet.

Effective treatments are available for getting rid of head lice, but treatment failure may occur if products are not used correctly. Head lice are developing resistance to many treatments. Therefore, it is vital that treatments are only used if the patient is certain that infestation is present. A second treatment may be appropriate after a week or so to ensure that any eggs that have hatched are dealt with.

Insecticides: Insecticides are used to treat head lice infections and to combat resistance. If a course of treatment does not work then a different insecticide should be used. Insecticides e.g. permethrin come in the form of shampoos, mousses, lotions and creams. Shampoos are generally not recommended as they are diluted on the head and not as effective as other products available. Lotions can be alcohol or aqua based and should be left on the head for 12 hours or overnight. Cream rinses are used like a conditioner and only need to be left on the head for ten minutes.

Other treatments: include dimeticone, cyclomethicone, oxyphthrine, octane – 1,2 diol, isopropyl alcohol, coconut and aniseed oils and neem oil. Dimethicone and cyclomethicone coat the head lice and interfere with water balance in the lice by preventing the excretion of water .They tend to be less effective against eggs and should be repeated after 7 days. Oxyphthrine suffocates the lice and kills them through dehydration. Octane - 1,2diol kills the lice through dehydration. Isopropyl alcohol is a disinfectant and is the only product available that kills both lice and their eggs in one treatment so a second treatment is not necessary. There are also electronic head lice combs that detect and kill lice with a small electric charge. They are painless to the child but can be expensive.

Repellents: are available that can be sprayed onto the hair. They work by making the hair feel cold and this stops the lice from moving from someone else onto the sprayed head. It is important to note that they do not kill lice or their eggs. The best prevention is to check children's hair regularly with a fine tooth comb.
Visit your doctor or pharmacist
  • If the patient is pregnant
  • If the patient suffers from asthma or eczema
  • If the scalp is bleeding or shows signs of infection
  • If the skin is broken
Helpful Tips from Mulligans Pharmacy:
  • At Mulligans Pharmacy, we understand that our customers may need treatment for symptoms of a personal or sensitive nature. Our pharmacists are always available for a discreet chat in our private consultation room at your request, or you can ask a Mulligans Pharmacist a question in confidence here.
  • Rest assured that head lice are a common problem and do not indicate poor hygiene
  • Lice do not fly and can only be transferred by head to head contact
  • Children should not be treated as a preventative measures as this only builds resistance to products – they should only be treated when infestation is present.
  • Read the instructions carefully as incorrect usage can lead to the product not working and can build resistance to that product
  • When applying products, pay particular attention to the back of the neck and behind the ears
  • Alcohol-based lotions should not be used by anyone who has asthma because the fumes can start an asthma attack.
  • Alcohol-based lotions should not be used by anyone with psoriasis or eczema because they can cause painful irritation to already inflamed skin
  • Treatment should be repeated after 7 days to kill any lice emerging from the eggs
  • After treatment, spend time fine combing the hair as this is the only effective way to remove the nits
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