Itchy & scratchy: tips for treating headlice

The bane of every Kiwi parent's existence, headlice, also known as nits, kutus or cooties, seem to be rife in just about every primary school. This, of course, means they have a filter-down effect into daycare centres and kindergartens as older brothers and sisters bring them home and share them around.


Head lice are small brown insects, about the size of a sesame seed, that live on the scalp and feed on the blood supply there. Their eggs ('nits') are tiny little specks which cement themselves to the strands of hair. Live eggs are brown, dead (either hatched or killed) eggs are white. Head lice cannot 'jump' instead they are transferred by head-to-head contact. One of the great myths about head lice is that they imply that the carrier is dirty - in fact, head lice much prefer clean scalps and hair. Greasy or oily unwashed hair is a hostile environment for the eggs, although once infected, lice can survive in dirty hair.


It has been suggested that Kiwi head lice have evolved into a "super nit" - one that is immune to most conventional and commercially-available treatments: in other words, virtually impossible to get rid of. So what works? And what doesn't? Here are some tried and true tips from Kiwi parents on getting rid of head lice, as well as some things to avoid at all costs.



The great natural cure-all. Tea Tree oil won't actually kill head lice, but a couple of drops in your child's shampoo will help prevent him or her from catching head lice. Tea Tree oil helps coat the hair making it difficult for lice to lay eggs, and it also contains natural properties that are a deterrent to head lice.



You may have heard your mother say, "In our day, we used kerosene and it did the trick". It sure does do the trick - but it's also incredibly dangerous. Steer clear of this one - kerosene in the eyes can have long term effects, the strong smell is not good for little ones, and it can sting sensitive little scalps.



There are a large number of head lice treatment shampoos and creams available from your local pharmacy, and some are even in supermarkets. Some are chemical-based; others are based on natural products such as Tea Tree oil. Different things work for different people, so have a chat to your pharmacist and see which one is best for you. These treatments tend to be expensive, and you can get specific ones available on prescription from your doctor to reduce the cost.



Recently there have been stories of people using cat and dog flea and insect treatments on their children to get rid of lice with remarkable efficiency. Our advice: don't! There is a reason why these treatments are designed for animals, not humans, and there is no research into their safety when used on humans.



Many medical professionals believe that this is the best way to eradicate lice and their eggs completely, but it requires dedication and time. After washing your child's hair, apply a large amount of conditioner and comb through thoroughly with a fine-toothed nit comb. This will remove the lice and their eggs, as well as damage any remaining lice and eggs to prevent further breeding. To be truly effective, you must repeat this process every day for at least seven days, or longer if the problem persists. This treatment is a good option for younger children as well, as it avoids the use of strong chemicals on their delicate skin.


Under 5

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