What are nits and head lice?

What are nits and head lice?

  Young boy scratching his head


Is your child itching away at their head like there’s no tomorrow? Are you tired of telling them to stop scratching their scalp?


Well don’t just assume that they’re being overly dramatic about a little itching, because they could be suffering with head lice!


Yes, those little lice could be making your head a home right now, so let’s take a look at what you can do to evict them before they invite all of their little lousy friends over for a party.


What are head lice?


Head lice are small insects that live on your hair and scalp, they’re very common and can affect anyone at all, although children usually suffer with them more than adults.


Although some people think nits can jump from head to head, this isn’t the case.


They’re not very agile, just very common and very quick at breeding, which means that one head louse can turn into an infestation before you know it.


What are nits?


Head lice are often referred to as nits, but the truth is that nits are actually head lice eggs.


Head lice normally live for around 40 days and can lay more than 100 eggs in that time.


These nits are attached to the hair and will usually take 7 – 10 days to hatch, if they do you’ll be left with a head full of creepy crawly head lice. I feel itchy just thinking about it!



Where do head lice come from?


Head lice normally spread through head to head contact, which is why they’re more common in children than adults.


Children put their heads together as they play some of their favourite games, making it easy for head lice to transfer from one head to another.


They can also spread when people share hats, combs, or pillows, although this is less likely to spread head lice than putting heads together.


Head lice have no preference about which head they live on, thinking that head lice prefer unclean or longer hair is an old wives’ tale, so if you bump heads with somebody who has head lice, you’re at risk of picking up a few lice of your own.



What do head lice look like?


Head lice aren’t easy to spot as they’re so small, but if you look closely at someone’s scalp when they have an infestation you might be able to spot them.


They look like small, grey-brown insects that are similar in size to a sesame seed.


If you’re not a fan of creepy crawlies and don’t want to see what a head louse looks like, up close and personal, look away now and keep scrolling to the next section! Go, go, go!



What do nits look like?


Nits are even more difficult to spot than head lice, as they’re so much smaller, but a keen eye can spot nits on the scalp.


They’re tiny yellow, brown, or white shells that you’ll find attached to the hair. If you comb through the hair with a nit comb, you’ll be able to see these little specs on your comb afterwards.


How do I know if I have head lice?


If you or your child have head lice, one of the first symptoms you’ll notice is itching. Head lice need human blood to survive, so they bite down on your scalp several times a day.


These bites won’t hurt but they will make you feel itchy and uncomfortable. You might also be able to feel the lice moving around on your scalp, and in some extreme cases you might even be able to see them moving!


If you’re feeling the itch, try combing your hair with a nit comb and see what comes out, if you spot a louse or some nits then you’ll know you’ve got an infestation on your hands.



How to get rid of nits and head lice


If you or your child are dealing with creepy crawly head lice, you’ll want to get rid of them as quickly as possible.


There are a few ways you can deal with head lice and nits, and if you catch an infestation early enough it can be over pretty quickly.


Let’s take a look at some of the ways you can treat a head lice infestation.




Nit combs are one of the first treatments you should try when you’re dealing with nits.


Not only will these combs help you to determine whether or not you have nits in the first place, but a thorough wet combing can help to clear out an infestation entirely.


Simply wet the hair and apply conditioner, then comb the entire head from root to tips with your nit comb, cleaning any lice or nits out of the comb as you go.


Combs can also be used after our other treatments to remove any lingering lice and nits that are stubbornly hanging onto your hair.





Another popular way to get rid of head lice and nits is to use a medicated lotion on your hair and scalp.


These lotion treatments use active ingredients that kill the head lice living on your scalp, and some can even stop nits from growing into fully formed lice.


Usually, one treatment and a good combing will be enough to get rid of head lice, but you can often repeat your treatments after a week if the infestation hasn’t passed.





Our final head lice treatment option is sprays.


These sprays work in the same way as lotions, covering the hair and scalp and killing the lice, but come in a convenient spray bottle that can make application easier.



Home remedies for head lice


There aren’t any home remedies for head lice than have been proven to work, but there are a couple of things you can do when your treatment has finished to make sure that the infestation doesn’t come back.


For starters, check your hair with a nit comb every week for a month and do this for everyone else in your household too, this will help you to be sure that the infestation is gone for good and hasn’t spread.


If the person who had the infestation has any combs or brushes that they use regularly, make sure that they’re washed in hot water every day.


This will help to kill off any lice or nits that have transferred into the comb or hairbrush and stop them from coming back.



How to prevent head lice


Head lice can’t be prevented, if you’re going to get them you’re going to get them and it’s as simple as that.


You might be tempted to use head lice lotions and sprays to try to keep head lice at bay before you have an infestation, but this isn’t recommended.


Using these products too often will only irritate your scalp and could cause a problem that’s harder to deal with than simple head lice and nits.




Now you know what to do to send those head lice packing for good, no more itchy, creepy crawlies for you and your family!


If you’re still not sure which head lice treatment is the best choice for you and your family, why not give our friendly Chemist 4 U pharmacists a call?


They’ll be able to help you to make the best treatment decision for you, so you can say goodbye head lice!


Laura Henderson - Medical Content Writer
James O'Loan - CEO & Superintendent Pharmacist
James O'Loan , CEO & Superintendent Pharmacist on 22 September 2021
How we ensure accuracy in our content