THE sight of your child scratching their head is something many parents dread in the first weeks of the new school term.
Unfortunately, head lice are a very common ailment, especially in kids aged three to 11.
But that doesn't mean you need to panic if you spot a little brown creature crawling across your child's scalp.
As part of The Sun's Back To School series, we're here to help you and your child ease into the new school year in the best possible shape, physically and mentally.
From tackling nits to making nutritious packed lunches, clocking mental health issues early and knowing your way round childhood vaccinations, we have you and your family covered.
Having lice doesn't have anything to do with cleanliness or hygiene. And getting rid of the critters isn't as much a faff as you think.
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But to effectively blitz them from your child's hair, you need to understand the enemy, as Harvard Health puts it.
Lice vs. Nits
Many people use the terms head lice and nits interchangeably, but they're actually different things.
In fact, head lice are found in three different forms:
- Nits: these are the head lice eggs attached to the base of the hair. They may look like dandruff, but if take a closer look you can see that they're oval shaped instead of flat
- Nymphs: think of these as baby lice – they're smaller and have a greyish-white colour
- Head lice: these are tan-coloured and can be seen moving quickly along the hair or across the scalp
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You basically need to kill all three generations of head lice to get rid of them for good.
Sadik, pharmacist PillTime Pharmacy Bristol, told Sun Health unfortunately parents can't do very much to prevent their kids from head lice.
"When a child has them they are spread by head-to-head contact and contrary to the perception it isn't a sign of dirty hair or poor hygiene," he said.
They can be difficult to spot, but itching and an uncomfortable feeling in your hair is one of the common first signs.
"Should you find head lice, it isn't the end of the world as they can be treated as long as you follow the necessary directions depending on the treatment you use," the pharmacist explained.
"You should treat head lice as soon as you detect them so it might be a good idea to keep some treatment on hand in case it is a weekend or late night.
"Detection combs that you can pick up in your local pharmacies are worth keeping in the cupboard should a scratchy head develop and cause a bit of worry."
Meanwhile, Numark lead information pharmacist Kenny Chan said it's good practice to check your child's hair regularly for signs of lice and nits.
What's the best way to treat head lice and nits?
There are a few options when it comes to treating head lice and nits.
First up is wet combing. You can buy a special fine-toothed comb online or from your local pharmacy.
Typically you just need to wash your child's hair with ordinary shampoo, apply lots of conditioner and then comb their hair thoroughly from roots to the ends.
The NHS recommends wet combing on days one, five, nine and 13 to catch any newly hatched critters. And always check again on day 17 to see if they've gone for good.
According to Sadik, "wet combing is often recommended but their are plenty of preparations available that are medicated to kill lice."
Parents can also opt for various lotions that contain insecticides.
Sadik noted: "With wet combing getting the schedule of combing spot on is vital to eradicate them and with most medicated lotions it is important to repeat them at the specified intervals following the directions."
According to Kenny, it's possible to develop resistance to some treatments.
Some of the insecticide products can contain dimeticone, which suffocates the lice by coating their surfaces – these are unlikely to develop resistance.
But the lice can become resistant to treatments with chemical insecticides that are meant to poison them.
"Wet combing and products containing dimeticone is the recommended first line treatment for pregnant or breast-feeding women, young children aged between six months to two years and people with asthma or eczema," Kenny advised.
Contrary to popular belief, getting head lice has nothing to do with how clean or dirty your child's hair is, Kenny explained.
Instead, the little critters are "picked up through head-to-head contact, or sharing hats, hair accessories, brushes and combs", he explained.
You also shouldn't douse your kid's head in treatment just on the off-chance they may have picked up lice with starting school.
As Kenny explained: "Head lice should only ever be treated if there is evidence of lice otherwise a resistance to the products available can develop."
If you spot nits or lice in your little one's tresses, it's best practice to treat the rest of your family that same day too to avoid reinfection.
And it's best to comb through yours and your child's hair afterwards to make sure the treatment was successful.
According to Harvard Health, washing hats, pillow cases and other items that touch the head in hot water may help contain head lice. but disinfecting your whole house isn't necessary because the transmission of head lice from inanimate objects is rare.
Cheap remedies to treat nits and lice
There are a number of ways you can tackle your child's head lice.
You can try a special fine- toothed comb on wet hair, going from root to end.
You should be able to get one of those from your pharmacist.
Otherwise go for medicated products that kill the head lice and can be used in all types of hair. Some of these products come with a comb to remove dead lice and eggs.
Pharmacists can help you choose the best treatment, based on what you've tried previously and what you're willing to spend, Kenny said.
He specifically recommended Hedrin sprays, lotions and gels, all of which contain dimeticone, so your tot is unlikley to develop resistance to them.
The products as priced between £4.29 and £11.99.
You can also find head lice treatments at your nearest supermarket.
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Tesco sells the Full Marks Solution Head Lice Treatment – it costs just £5.25 and has its own comb.
As for combs, you can find them for as little as £1.25 at ASDA, which also sells Hedrin Once Spray Gel for £5.50 and Vosene Kids 3 in 1 Head Lice Repellent Conditioning Shampoo for £2.
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