Ask the Pharmacist – Headlice

Pharmacies usually see a real uplift in requests for advice on detection and treatment of head lice around this time of year when children return to school.

Head lice are tiny grey/brown, wingless insects and are the size of a pinhead when hatched and of a sesame seed when fully grown. They are a common problem, particularly in school children who are four to 11 years ofage, however anyone can be affected.Contrary to popular belief they cannotfly, jump, swim, cycle or drive but areonly spread by head-to-head contact, climbing from the hair of an infected person onto the hair of someone else. Having head lice has nothing to do with personal hygiene, they can live on all types of hair and no preference exists between clean or dirty hair.

The most widely suffered symptom ofhead lice is an itchy scalp. This is not caused by the lice biting, but by an allergy to the lice. However, not everyone is allergic to head lice, so you or your child may not notice a head lice infestation. Detection is crucial as only those people with live lice should be treated. Using aspecial fine-toothed comb (detectioncomb) wet comb the hair onto a white piece of paper. If an infestation is present you will see live lice or eggs. This should be treated as early as possible.

Initially try wet combing every couple of days for two weeks to remove the lice and eggs. If not successful you should try a mediated lotion or spray. There are a number of products available and it is important that they are used according to the manufacturer’s directions listed on the pack – these include theinsecticide malathion (Derbac M), andnon-insecticidal silicone based products such as Hedrin.

It is worth noting that the above treatments for head lice, once aninfestation has been confirmed, areavailable on the Minor Ailments Service throughout the pharmacy network in Northern Ireland. So, no need to visit your GP for a prescription, you can head straight to your local pharmacy to obtain treatment and advice on how to get thegreatest benefit from whatever productis recommended.

Richard Dunn is a community pharmacist with Gordons Chemists.

The content of this article is for general information only. The information is not for diagnostic purposes and should not be treated as such. You must not rely on the information in this column as an alternative to medical advice from your GP or other professional healthcare provider.

Established in 1980, Gordons Chemists are an independently owned retail pharmacy chain with nine pharmacies in Scotland. Find your local Gordons store at 1 Gracemount Drive, Edinburgh, EH16 6RR or 105 High Street, Musselburgh, EH21 7DA

Products described are available at most pharmacies and Gordons Chemists does not endorse any individual product. Always consult your pharmacist in relation to your individual symptoms.

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