Head lice (pediculosis) are tiny insects that live on the scalp and feed on blood. These parasites can take up residence on anyone’s head, but are particularly fond of children in schools and daycare centres, since this is where they can easily spread.
The signs and symptoms of head lice
Here are some signs and symptoms that could mean your child has lice:
- Your child complains about having an itchy head, especially at night.
- You notice that your child is scratching his or her head, particularly the back of the neck and behind the ears.
- You notice redness or sores on your child’s scalp due to scratching.
- You see nits (tiny translucent eggs) at the base of the hair (less than 1 cm from the scalp) and live lice.
You can also have head lice without having any symptoms!
Who and when to treat
The best way to know if someone has head lice is to do a visual examination of the scalp. If one child has lice, your entire family is at risk of having them, too. You will need to do a lice check on every member of the household and treat everyone at the same time. But only family members with visible nits and lice should be treated with the head lice product (pediculicide).
There are no benefits whatsoever to treating someone who does not have lice in an attempt to prevent the problem. On the contrary, this can contribute to a very common problem: the resistance of head lice to available treatment options!
Here are the steps of a thorough scalp examination:
- Wet the person’s hair.
- Use a lamp for better lighting. You will need to see well in order to detect nits and live lice. They tend to flee light, so they will be moving around more. A magnifying glass can also be helpful.
- Use a fine-tooth comb for the examination.
- Separate the hair into strands that are the width of the comb. For long hair, make smaller strands.
- Run the comb through each strand from the scalp to the tip of the hair.
- Look at the comb to see if there are any nits or lice.
- Wash your hands well when you have completed the lice check.
Examine your child’s scalp in the following situations:
- If your child shows possible signs and symptoms of head lice.
- If your child has been in close contact with someone with head lice.
- If the school or daycare tells you about a lice problem.
Good to know!
During the school year, it’s a good idea to check your children for lice at least once a week. Back-to-school time is particularly favourable for head lice infestations.
Head lice treatments
The first thing to do when someone has lice is head to the pharmacy. Head lice treatments are available without a prescription and are generally kept behind the prescription counter. You will need to ask a member of the pharmacy team for them.
Your family pharmacist can help you choose the product best suited to your situation. The information about the treatment will be recorded in the prescription file of the person being treated.
Here are some tips on using the product safely and effectively so you can eliminate the head lice the first time around:
- Follow to the letter the manufacturer’s directions and your pharmacist’s instructions. The success of the treatment depends on it.
- Do the entire treatment, as recommended. The treatments used today usually require two or three applications several days apart. You must repeat the applications even if you no longer see any nits or live lice on the scalp.
- Note that the product can cause a mild burning sensation and some itchiness. Do not stop the treatment, since this is normal.
- If you notice the presence of live lice 17 days after the first application, there is a chance that the product did not eliminate the infestation. Consult your pharmacist, who will most likely recommend another brand.
To get rid of lice for good, you will also need to eliminate them from your surroundings. Health authorities recommend these measures:
- Wash all objects that may have come into contact with lice (clothing, scarves, hats, brushes, combs, sheets, stuffed animals, etc.). Here are your options:
- Soak them in undiluted head lice shampoo or in hot water (approximately 65°C or 150°F) for 5 to 10 minutes.
- Run clothing and bedding in a hot dryer for 20 minutes.
- Have the items dry cleaned.
- Place them in an airtight plastic bag for at least 10 days.
- Vacuum carpets and couches.
It’s also essential to:
- Notify the school, after-school program or daycare centre that your child has lice, so that the staff can take the proper measures and advise other parents.
- Tell your child not to share personal items and to avoid close contact (e.g. hugs) as long as the head lice have not been completely eliminated.
Found lice on one of your family members? You need to begin treatment as soon as possible. You can always ask your family pharmacists for advice on treatment options. They can also prescribe* medications for certain minor health problems when no diagnosis is required, as is the case with head lice. A consultation will be required so the pharmacist can make sure you meet the prescribing criteria.
To avail yourself of this service, you may need to book an appointment with your family pharmacist. Ask a member of the pharmacy team for more details. Some Uniprix-affiliated pharmacies also offer an online appointment booking service. To locate the store nearest you providing this service, click here.
*Certain conditions must be respected. Fees may apply. Ask a member of the pharmacy team for more information. Pharmacists alone are responsible for the practice of pharmacy. They offer related services only on behalf of pharmacist-owners