Five signs your child has head lice

Head lice: the facts

How do you catch them, how do you treat them, and more importantly, what colour are they after they've fed?

Head lice are a common scourge among school-aged children, as close playground contact is the perfect way to spread the irritating critters.

Although they do not fly, and they can't jump (like fleas) they are easily spread through head-to-head contact and may also spread with the use of shared brushes and combs, hats, pillows and towels.

While there are some tell-tale signs that your child may have lice, they can be difficult to detect early.

Childhood pest: not all head lice symptoms are obvious.
Childhood pest: not all head lice symptoms are obvious. Photo: iStock

Early detection is something most parents would be keen to do to avoid the rest of the family getting infested – not to mention the longer the infestation is left, the longer it will take to comb them all out.

Here are some pointers which should help you catch the bugs early, and save plenty of time and effort.

Itchy scalp

This is one of the classic signs of a head lice infestation. Caused by an allergic reaction to the saliva of lice, according to the Mayo Clinic, itchiness can occur on the scalp, neck and ears.

However itchiness can be a sign of a number of other conditions including dandruff, so it's important to see whether any of the other symptoms are also present.

In bad allergic reactions, your child might even develop small red bumps, a rash or sores from the itching.

Non-itchy scalp

The Mayo Clinic also points out that in a child's (or adults) first lice infestation, they might not feel itchy at all for the first two to six weeks after first becoming infested.

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In fact, according to Better Health, half the people who have head lice infestations never scratch their head.

If your child is in primary school, it may be worth checking their hair fairly regulary just in case, but especially if they notice any other symptoms.

Tickling feeling

If there is no itch, your child may feel a tickling feeling on their head, as if something (in this case, a louse) is moving in their hair.

A magnified head louse.
A magnified head louse. 

Depending on your child's age, this may not be a symptom they mention.

If you suspect they have lice or there has been an outbreak at their school, it is worth asking them if they feel any tickling on their head.

Nits

Nits are louse eggs, which are laid on hair close to the scalp. Lice eggs are white in appearance when empty, and remain glued to the hair shaft after the lice have hatched.

In a lighter infestation you are more likely to spot these eggs rather than the fully grown lice.

The nits are easier to see as the hair grows longer, however the further you find the nits from the scalp, the longer your child has been infested.

Nits are easiest to spot on the hairline behind the ears and along the neck.

Adult lice

These are harder to spot than nits as they move quickly, and your child might not have a bad infestation.

However with some decent lighting, a plain white conditioner and a fine-tooth comb you should be able to find a couple of the culprits if your child has lice.

One trick is to section your child's hair, run a fine louse comb through the hair and wipe it on plain paper towel.

The plain white background makes it much easier to spot any nits, lice, or juvenile nymphs.

If you detect lice in your child's hair, head to your local pharmacy and look for a product which is clinically proven to kill head lice and eggs.