What is it? What are the symptoms? What are the treatments?

What are nits?

Having head lice is a very common infestation of tiny wingless insects on the scalp and along the hair shafts, spread by head to head contact. They are extremely common amongst pre-school and primary school age children and repeated infestations are common unless all the parents in a group where a breakout has occurred can be persuaded to treat their children at the same time, regardless of whether they think they have head lice or not. Sometimes a child may have only one or two lice, but this number multiplies very quickly if left undetected and untreated. Head lice feed by sucking small amounts of blood from the scalp, which results in intense itching. Some people believe headlice can fly or jump, but they can't: they move from head to head by crawling. Nits are the individual head lice shell casings on the hair shaft. They look pale and creamy in colour and are normally attached at the base of the hair shaft near to the scalp. They can be pulled off using finger nails, and the more you remove - the less lice will hatch. Another commonly held misconception is that head lice prefer dirty heads. In fact, they are undiscerning creatures and will infest anyone with hair, regardless of its condition.

What are the symptoms of Nits?

The first sign of head lice is usually the itching, and you'll see your child scratching away at her head repeatedly. You might be able to see the lice if you examine her head and hair closely: fully grown they're about 3mm long, but are very good at camouflage. When checking - look particularly around the tops of the ears and the nape of the neck, as this is where they are most often seen.

What are the treatments and remedies of Nits?

Treatment is either by wet combing - using a special nit comb and plenty of conditioner on wet hair until all signs of nits and lice have gone- or by using a proprietary over-the-counter lotion or shampoo. Some are chemical, others natural. You shouldn't use any chemical treatment on children under two years old. You may find the best solution for your child through trial and error. You should also be prepared to repeat the combing or treatment over several weeks as combing may get the adults but there will still be eggs waiting to hatch out.

Prescription treatments, including oral medication, are available if the lice are very resistant to other treatments.

This guide 

The information in this Bounty A-Z of Family Health is not a substitute for an examination, diagnosis or treatment by a doctor, midwife, health visitor or any other qualified health professional. If in doubt, always speak to a doctor.

Bounty will not be held responsible or liable for any injury, loss, damage, or illness, however this occurs or appears, after using the information given on this website and in particular the A-Z of Family Health.

Further help

For health advice and information 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, the NHS offers call and web services. You can also visit NHS websites for services, health information and health news at nhs.uk 

  • England – call 111 from any landline or mobile phone free of charge, or visit nhs.uk 
  • Scotland – call 111 from any landline or mobile phone free of charge, or visit nhs24.com 
  • Wales – call 0845 4647 , or visit nhsdirect.wales.nhs.uk 
  • Northern Ireland – visit hscni.net