Head lice

Most children get head lice from time to time and it’s not associated with cleanliness but they should be treated to stop further spread.


Head lice are tiny grey/brown insects about the size of a sesame seed. They cling to hairs and stay close to the scalp which they feed off. When they are about 10 days old, lice start to lay eggs which hatch 7-10 days later. Nits are the empty white eggshells left when the lice hatch. They look like dandruff, but stick strongly to hair so, unlike dandruff, you cannot easily brush out nits.


Do I have head lice?

Many affected people have no symptoms, but can still pass head lice to others. Often people complain of an itchy head. Head lice are difficult to find just by looking in the hair. If you suspect that you have head lice, it is best to use a special nit comb and ask a friend or parent to check your hair while it is wet.


What is “Bug Busting”?

  • Wash your hair then apply lots of conditioner. Use a normal comb to untangle the hair.
  • Using a special nit comb, start combing small sections of the hair at a time making sure you start closely to the scalp and combing through to the ends. You’ll need to use a special fine-toothed detection comb that you can buy from your local pharmacy.
  • After each stroke, check the comb for lice or nits and wipe or rinse the comb before combing again.
  • Gradually work through all of the hair section by section.
  • Rinse out the conditioner.


It is recommended by NHS choices to repeat every three days for two weeks in order to clear the young lice as they hatch, before they have time to reach maturity.


What about lotions?

No medicated treatment is 100% effective and medicated treatments should only be used if living (moving) head louse are found. Your pharmacist will be able to recommend a lotion. Use enough to coat the scalp and the length of the hair during each application. Follow the instructions that come with the lotion. It usually takes about 8 hours for the lotion to work and the treatment must be repeated 7 days later. Some products may be capable of killing eggs as well as lice, although there’s no certainty of this. Check for baby lice hatching from eggs three to five days after using a product and again 10-12 days afterwards. At least two applications of lotion are needed to kill lice over the hatching period because the lotions don’t always kill louse eggs. If the treatment doesn’t appear to have worked, or if the problem persists, ask your school nurse for advice.


NHS Choices Links