We might find it unpleasant to think about infestations such as head lice or scabies, but they are quite common conditions. Skin infestations can spread quickly and easily from person to person, so finding the right treatment is important. Here's more information on their cause and how our dermatologists can help you manage and treat them.
Head lice, usually called 'nits', are tiny wingless insects that may live in our hair. When they first hatch they're the size of a pinhead and only the size of a sesame seed when fully grown. They're a grey-brown colour, which often makes them tricky to see. Itching is usually the first symptom of head lice.
Head lice are most common in school children. Some children are more prone to them than others and may have repeated infestations over many months. Head lice are highly contagious and can spread quickly between classmates and family members. This can make them difficult to manage and treatments often fail, because your child (or you) may be repeatedly affected. It's important that everyone in the family is treated at the same time, as the eggs may not be easily seen in the early stages of an infestation.
The most effective way to minimise head lice is by wet combing the hair using a special head lice comb. Applying medicated lotions to the hair and scalp can also help. But, you'll need to repeat this regularly to make sure the infestation clears.
Scabies is an infestation by a mite, which burrows beneath the skin and lays eggs. The main symptom is intense itching, which is usually worse at night or when you're hot. The itching is caused by the body's allergic reaction to the eggs beneath the skin. You may also get a rash on the area of skin where the mites have burrowed. This rash may look like tiny red spots or insect bites. Scabies used to be rare but has recently become more common in the UK.
Scabies is usually transferred through skin-to-skin contact with other people. The more prolonged the contact, the more chance of them spreading, so sharing a bed or having sex with someone who has scabies increases the risk. The mites can also survive on sheets and clothing, so sharing bedding, clothes and towels can also spread them.
Scabies is usually treated with a cream or lotion that's applied to the whole skin, left overnight and then washed off the next day. The treatment may need to be repeated a week later. Anyone who's been in contact with the person who has scabies should also be treated. You'll also need to wash all clothing and bedding.