I knew it would happen at some point. It was inevitable. I had even been to the local chemists and bought some nit removal cream in anticipation of the dreaded day. That was nearly 2 years ago and it has been sitting on the bathroom shelf, gathering dust ever since. However, despite the preparation, it was still a shock (coupled with a bit of disgust) when my daughter and I eventually both got nits.
There were several signs that I had missed. The first warning sign was a letter from school informing us that there were a few cases of nits in her class. You’d think that would have spurned me on to at least check my daughter’s hair, but no.
The second warning sign was my daughter told me that her head was itchy, which, again, I inexplicably ignored.
Then my head started itching and that was when the penny finally dropped. WE HAVE NITS!
I instantly went into crazy research mode, finding all about these little critters and the best ways of zapping them for good. I have learnt so much about nits these last few weeks that I wanted to share some interesting nuggets of information:
Let’s start with the terminology:
Lice are the little sesame seed sized creatures that lay eggs in your hair.
Nymphs are the newly hatched lice.
Eggs are the little brown eggs that are laid by the lice and stick like glue to your hair shaft and are a bugger to remove.
Nits are the little white eggshells that are left behind once the lice have hatched.
And some interesting, albeit itch-inducing, facts:
- The entire lifespan of a louse is at least 20 days.
- During the lice life cycle, a female louse will feed on human blood and mate. After one or two days, she lays eggs on hair follicles close to the scalp, attaching them with a waterproof glue-like substance that cannot be washed out.
- A single female louse can lay from 50 to 150 eggs. These eggs, called nits, hatch, producing nymphs. Within 10 days of hatching, the nymphs are ready to mate. Adults live approximately nine to ten days after mating.
- Lice can travel up to 23cm a minute which, relative to body size is probably faster than my top running speed.
- Lice cannot jump from one head to another. There needs to be prolonged head to head contact for the lice to move a new hairy home.
- Lice infestations tend to affect girls more than boys, possibly because they are more likely to put their heads together when playing or working.
- The average infected scalp has ten lice.
- They hang out near your scalp and can be most commonly found behind your ears and at the nape of your neck.
- Lice can only survive 24-28 hours without a host so they will not infect your home like fleas or bed bugs do.
How do you know if you have nits?
Not everyone becomes itchy when they have nits so don’t rely on this being the first symptom. The itching is an allergic reaction to the louse’s saliva but 60% of people are not allergic.
Keep abreast of any nit outbreaks at school. If you are made aware of one then the best way to check is with a nit comb. Simply wash your child’s hair as normal and then apply a generous amount of cheap conditioner.
Give it a brush to get all the tangles out and then comb it through with a nit comb. Ensure that you start at the top of the head with teeth of the nit comb touching the scalp and drawing right down to the end of the hair shaft.
Pay particular attention to behind the ears and at the nape of the neck. Check both sides of the comb for a sesame-seed-sized creature. You’ll soon be able to tell if they have them.
How do you get rid of them?
There are three main ways:
Nit combs will become your new best friend once you get an infestation. The Nitty Gritty comb is the best on the market. It’s rounded ends mean it doesn’t scratch the scalp and the prongs are very close together so you are more likely to pick everything up.
The way to remove them naturally is the same method for checking for lice:
Simply wash your child’s hair, coat the hair liberally in a cheap conditioner and brush through to remove any knots. The brushing bit is really important unless you want to spend 10 minutes removing a nit comb from your screaming child’s head.
Section the hair into four sections (two at the front, two at the back) and comb through with a nit comb from the scalp through to the end of the hair shaft. After each comb, wipe the comb on a bit of tissue paper to clean it and rather satisfyingly, see what you caught! Check both sides of the comb.
Pay particular attention to the nape of the neck and behind the ears. Also, try and comb through in different directions in order to catch everything. Then wash hair as usual.
Because of the lice life cycle, you will need to do this regularly over a two week period. Not very convenient if you have to manage this around work and school so try and do it every three days.
There are two types of lice removal creams.
Insecticide-based removal creams work by paralysing the central nervous system of the lice. Unfortunately, over the years, lice have developed a treatment resistance which has led to the formulation of even stronger, toxic, mixtures. Additionally, these treatments only kill the lice, not the eggs, so you need to do two treatments to catch the initial lice and then the newly hatched lice.
The other type is a silicone-based treatment that coats the lice in a film that literally suffocates them. As it isn’t an insecticide, they are unlikely to build up a resistance. The other bonus is that is kinder to your skin that the insecticide-based treatments. However, silicones can sometimes be associated with skin irritation. These treatments contain either Dimethicone or Cyclomethicone. It’s worth noting that this too, requires two treatments as it cannot kill the eggs. Popular brands that use this silicone-based treatment are Hedrin and Full Marks.
Both work in a similar way. They are normally applied to dry hair and left on for between 5 minutes and 8 hours. You should check the individual products for specific usage instructions. Depending on what treatment you use, there will still be an element of nit combing.
3. Get the Experts In
Yes, you can actually pay professionals to come to your home who will literally hoover your hair, sucking the lice and eggs out of your hair. Expensive yes, but instant and effective. The HairForce, charge £150 for a nit removal sucking. You normally need two appointments, spaced 7 days apart.
What can I do to reduce the risk of spreading them?
- Keep hair tied up, preferably in a plait.
- You don’t need to wash pillows, scarves and hats as any lice that have wandered off your scalp are dying as they need your scalp to survive.
- However, it is worth clearing out any stray hairs in hairbrushes. A hair clinging to a hair strand in a brush can easily be returned to the head in a subsequent stroke.
Prevention is better than cure
Of course, we all know that prevention is better than cure, so here are a few things you can do to keep nits at bay:
- Lice hate Lavender and Tea tree oil. I put a few drops of these essential oils with some water and spray in my daughter’s hair whenever I am aware of an outbreak.
- Keep hair tied back, preferably in a plait.
- Some parents swear by Vosene Head Lice Shampoo and Leave-In Conditioning Spray, however, some parents find the smell unpleasant.
So there we have it. All you need to know about lice and nits. It’s all part of school life so there is no getting away from it. It will happen. And one unexpected consequence of having lice was the satisfaction of finding a louse in my daughter’s hair and squishing it with my fingernail. So easily pleased!
What did we do?
As I had been dreading our first nit infestation I bought Full Marks lice treatment cream a couple of years ago in preparation for such an event. It came with a nit comb. I did as instructed and did two treatments but in a bid to get rid of the critters asap, I also combed for nits every couple of days in between the chemical treatment. You’ll be pleased to know it worked.
Over to you
Let me know if you have any other tips to share with parents and carers who in a similar situation. I don’t know about you but this post has left me feeling rather itchy!