Family Health Diary

Yeah, an altogether stunning start to an article, a title like that. I could just as easily change it to kutis (or cooties) or head lice, but…let’s face it, any title I write will probably make you scratch your head anyway. See? I bet you’re scratching your head right now?!  We all do it at the very mention of the word, even without a shred of evidence. If you don’t have children – bypass this one (you probably already have). If you do have young kids – you’ll maybe be interested in a subject you never thought you would have. And if you have a current nit issue in your house – you’re probably at the end of your tether anyway, so read on and know you’re not alone.

The school term’s back in the swing and if you’ve got younger children, at some stage, a notice will no doubt come home from school saying, ‘we have head lice, please check your child’s head’. Fuss not. That’s the point where you need to take stock and educate yourself as the adult, rather than panic and react like the child you once were in the classroom when the public health nurse came around and you felt all sweaty and worried if she took too long looking at your head. Well, that was my experience back in the day – worried she’d loiter too long on my head, because although I didn’t want to have her say I had nits, more importantly I didn’t want the rest of the kids to think I had them, if she did more than a cursory look. As it was I can’t recall I ever did have them as a kid. But as a mum, I’ve certainly had to combat them when the children were kindergarten age.

A few facts for you:

  • Head lice are tiny, wee insects, about 2 mm long, and can be white, grey or brown. The like the back of your neck and round your ears.
  • They live on the scalp and lay eggs (nits) on strands of hair. They’re busy – they can lay 7 to 10 eggs a night.
  • Those eggs are laid close to the scalp (as mum lives on the scalp remember) and get glued to the shaft of the hair. They’re pale grey in colour and about the size of a grain of salt. They hatch in about 9 days and ‘Bingo’ you’ve got the adult lice joining the party – they live for about 40 days. The empty case after they’ve hatched goes a white colour and as the hair grows they can still stick to the hair shaft and end up further down the head. So those white eggs not so close to the scalp are in fact old news. Just a red flag you’ve had a previous batch to hatch.

So, what to do if you have them?

Having been that horrified mother, I can tell you from the couple of times we had them on little heads, you need to be all over it and treat this as more than the one hit wonder – this is your weekly gig till you’re satisfied they are no longer. Those that get complacent one treatment in, are looking for trouble. It’s tedious, there’s no shortcut and strangely it’s sort of satisfying.

Dr Google will offer you various options, but my advice is a good ‘post nit shampoo hair wash’ movie, for decent distraction. Then sit there, section the hair with that wee nit comb so fine nothing escapes it, and start combing, wiping the comb on a tissue every time, to see if you gather anything. You’ll get eggs old and new (fingers possibly the best thing to use to slide those old eggs off) and perhaps even the odd munted insect. Soooo satisfying.

BUT…unless you do this whole process again in a week’s time (remember, if you miss one egg, they’re away again) you’re going to be doing this process for way longer. My best advice? Get onto it, take it seriously, keep up with it, and brush that long hair upside down and vigorously every day. It can damage them, and a bonus side effect is it keeps the knots at bay! Put long hair up in pony tail, and if they do visit your household, don’t fuss too much. Get on with treating it promptly and shrug your shoulders – it’s just one of those things of childhood.


Written by Jude Dobson

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