Head lice and nits

Nit comb

Head lice and nits are a very common problem with young children, particularly between the ages of 4-11, although head lice can be found on adults young people and babies.

About head lice and nits

Head lice are very small insects that live in hair. They can be seen by the naked eye but can run fast so are not always visible.

The nits are the white shells of the eggs the lice hatched out of. They can look like candy floss, are very sticky and will often stick the hair together.

Head lice can be extremely difficult to notice. The only way to be sure someone has them is by finding live lice or eggs by combing the hair with a detection comb.

How you get head lice

Head lice spread by direct head to head contact. They cannot jump or fly and are unlikely to be spread by hats or pillows. They don’t have a preference for short, long, clean or dirty hair.

Head lice can only affect people and cannot be caught from animals.

Head lice are generally harmless

They are mostly harmless but can live in hair for a long time if untreated and could cause irritation to the scalp. It can be frustrating to try and deal with them and they are difficult to prevent.

Your child does not need to stay off school if they have head lice or nits and you don’t usually have to see your GP.

Treating head lice and nits

The best way to treat head lice and nits is by using a specially designed comb which is suitable for everyone and every hair type. The hair needs to be combed several times and this can be a long process.

There are also lotions and sprays available that kill head lice which can be effective but some are not suitable for children with asthma, skin conditions, pregnant or breastfeeding women or children under two years of age.

Treatments are available from pharmacies, from supermarkets or your local school nurse through the family clinic. If you don’t pay for prescriptions you may be able to get treatment free from a pharmacy through the NHS Minor Ailment Scheme.

Support from school nurses

School nurses must follow National Institute of Clinical Excellence (NICE) guidelines which give us evidence-based recommendations for dealing with various conditions. Read the NICE guideline for head lice treatments.

Your school nursing team can give advice about head lice and nits over the telephone or you can drop in to one of our family clinics. Family clinics are just before school pick up time and follow on from the well-baby clinics run by health visitors. If needed the school nurse can prescribe treatment.

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