The simplest solutions are often the best and that’s certainly the case when it comes to head lice.
One of Blackpool Teaching Hospitals’ partner agencies, NHS Blackpool Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG), the organisation responsible for the planning and buying of local health services, is backing a move away from the use of insecticides to treat the bugs.
National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) guidance advocates wet-combing as the best way to both detect and treat head lice. It places the other insecticide based treatments as alternatives.
The insecticides either kill the lice or wrap them in a physical barrier which makes them easier to wash out. However, this method means exposing the scalp to chemicals and only tackles head lice that have hatched. The nits (the head lice eggs) are sometimes left behind.
In comparison, head lice combs have finer teeth than a normal comb and are designed to be better at catching both lice and eggs. As long as the hair is wet while combing the results are just as effective.
A survey of parents across the town who have had to tackle head lice in their children showed more than two thirds favoured a combing technique.
Dr Amanda Doyle, a Blackpool GP and Chief Clinical Officer at NHS Blackpool CCG said: “In line with the guidance from NICE, we feel it is better to encourage people to use specific head lice combs rather than other insecticide treatments.
“We always advocate people treating themselves for the most minor of ailments. In the case of head lice it is very difficult to prevent, but the simplest thing to do to detect and treat them is to use a comb.
“Of course the insecticides will still be available to purchase from the pharmacist if you wish, but that is the choice of individuals.”
Using a head lice comb is easy:
- Wash the hair with ordinary shampoo and apply plenty of conditioner. The hair has to be wet. Dry lice will scurry away from the disturbance of the comb but they remain still when they are wet; meaning a better chance of catching them all in the teeth of the comb.
- Make sure the teeth of the comb slot into the hair at the roots, with the edge of the teeth lightly touching the scalp.
- Draw the comb down from the roots to the ends of the hair with every stroke, and check the comb for lice each time – remove lice by wiping the comb with tissue paper or rinsing it.
- Work through the hair, section by section, so that the whole head of hair is combed through.
- Do this at least twice to help ensure you haven’t missed any areas, until no more lice are found.
- Repeat the process five days later just to be sure.
If the problem of head lice persists, you should speak to your local pharmacist who will be able to offer advice, free of charge and without the need for an appointment.
It’s difficult to know exactly how common head lice are because the problem is under reported, often because of stigma attached to the bugs, but it is well-known to be most common in children between four and 11 years old.
The stigma around head lice grew out of a misconception amongst young people that having head lice meant your head is unclean but this is not the case.
Further information on head lice detection and treatment is available via the NHS choices website at: www.nhs.uk/conditions/head-lice.