The Center for Podiatric Care and Sports Medicine

Hair Tourniquet Syndrome in Infants: Why You Should Check Your Baby’s Toes Routinely

Posted by on Monday, February 19th, 2018

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There’s nothing more adorable than a baby’s teeny tiny toes. Recently, several parents have taken to social media warning of a hidden danger to your child’s precious tootsies: strands of hair! For unknown reasons, skinny strands of hair or thread can wind around a baby’s toes, creating a tourniquet that blocks blood flow, putting the baby at risk for amputation. Our NYC podiatrists do not see hair tourniquet syndrome in infants very often, but it is still an issue every parent should file away in memory. Here are the warning signs and steps you can take to prevent such a situation.

There are benefits to regularly checking your baby's toes.
Regularly checking your baby’s toes can save them from a hair tourniquet. Image Source: Unsplash user Gabby Orcutt.

Why Should Parents Look Out For?

In December, Heather Fricke posted a photo of her 10-month-old’s swollen, blue toes. “I fed and changed both his diaper and clothes for a party we were going to… I handed him to his dad Tommy to put socks on him when Tommy realized his two toes were blue and tied together with a strand of hair,” she explained. “I immediately took off what I could and had to take him to the ER where we spent an hour and a team of five doctors trying to get the rest of my hair off his two toes,” she added. The doctors told the mother if they had not gotten to the hair when they did, two of her son’s toes could have been amputated.

In another story, Scott Walker was out to lunch with his wife and 5-month-old daughter, Molly. That’s when little Molly suddenly became cranky, turned bright red, and screamed. After removing her socks to cool her down, the Walkers noticed a strand of hair wrapped around the girl’s red, throbbing toe. The hair had cut through the skin, but they managed to carefully remove it using tweezers and a magnifying glass before more harm was done. Forty-five minutes later, the toe was still red and injured looking, but the girl made a full recovery. According to CBS Newsthousands of parents wrote in to share similar stories.

Georgia Nurse Maria Edgeworth told Fox 5 that the same thing happened to her 5-month-old daughter, Braelyn, on January 4th, 2016. The happy-go-lucky baby didn’t make a fuss, but when undressing her for a bath, her mother noticed a cinched, swollen, discolored toe with a hair wrapped around it.”I just completely freaked out,” she admitted. She rushed Braelyn to the ER, where the doctor used a magnifying glass and scissors to cut the hair. Within 15 minutes, the toe color returned to normal.

What is Hair Tourniquet or Tourniquet Syndrome?

These scary stories demonstrate why parents should be aware of the dangers associated with hair tourniquets. Hair tourniquet or tourniquet syndrome occurs when a loose hair or clothing thread wraps around an appendage, acting as a tourniquet that disrupts the blood flow. There is little data on exactly how many of these injuries occur each year, but pediatricians routinely include “hair wrapped around a child’s toe” as one of the things to check on when treating a seemingly inconsolable baby. It is most commonly observed in young children from the first days of life up to 19 months for fingers and toes or four months to six years for genitalia.

The medical community speculates that a repetitive movement of the appendage causes the offending fiber to become hopelessly wound around the toe. Some 90% of mothers report excessive hair loss in the first four months postpartum, which is considered to be the most common time for the problem to occur. Nurses say cotton bandages can become unraveled and wrap around a finger or a toe as well. Often, the problem goes unnoticed because infants wear footie pajamas or socks for extended periods of time. While most experiences (like the parents’ whose posts have gone viral) are purely accidental, some cases are intentional and related to child abuse.

The outcome depends on how long the fiber was wrapped around the appendage. Soft tissue injury is caused when there is ischemic compression of blood vessels and cutting action. Further complications include constructive scarring, deformity, and bone disruption. In the worst cases, there is a total loss of functioning and the need for amputation.

What to Do If You Find or Suspect a Hair Tourniquet

Experts say prevention is the best cure, so make a habit of routinely checking your child out from head to toe before bed each night or whenever the child is crying for seemingly no reason at all. If you find something wrapped around your child’s toe, unwind it and call a doctor right away.  If the hair is particularly stubborn and cannot be pried off using a bobby pin, tweezers, or scissors, you can also use hair removal cream like Nair to dissolve it immediately. Basic wound care with topic antibiotic ointments should clear up most markings in the area. If swelling hair impaired blood flow and the area remains discolored, contact an orthopedic specialist. In the days that follow, keep an eye on your child for fever and other signs of infection.

If you live near White Plains or Manhattan, The Center for Podiatric Care and Sports Medicine can care for your child. We have all the latest tools to keep your little ones’ feet happy and healthy, from treating foot problems and injuries to recommending shoe choices to offering preventative advice. For more information, contact us today.

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If you have any foot problems or pain, contact The Center for Podiatric Care and Sports MedicineDr. Josef J. GeldwertDr. Katherine Lai, Dr. Ryan Minara and Dr. Mariola Rivera have helped thousands of people get back on their feet. Unfortunately, we cannot give diagnoses or treatment advice online. Please make an appointment to see us if you live in the NY metropolitan area or seek out a podiatrist in your area.