Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Be on the Lookout for Hair Tourniquets

I clearly remember the day I thought that one of my boys would lose a toe! The twins were about six weeks old, and my mother-in-law was visiting from Alaska. She was bathing Caleb in the sink when she noticed that one of his toes was turning blue! Upon closer examination, we realized that a piece of hair had become wound around two of his toes so tightly that it was cutting off the circulation. In fact, the strand was embedded so deeply that we could only see the cut lines in his toes and the hair stretched between the two toes. Holding Caleb carefully so that he wouldn’t wiggle, we managed to slice the hair between his toes with a small knife and slowly unwind it. It was difficult to know if we had retrieved all the hair, but fortunately the blood started coming back into the toes and the blue color disappeared.

I was so grateful to my mother-in-law for noticing the problem because it could have resulted in the loss of one or two toes! Even though I had already successfully steered two other children through infancy, I had never heard of this phenomenon or been warned of the possibility. Experts call this a “hair tourniquet,” and it can be a real threat to infants. Hair can get wrapped around fingers and toes—and even penises! (In fact, I read an article where a baby girl lost her clitoris due to “hair tourniquet syndrome.”) Even pet hair or loose threads from a blanket or piece of clothing can become entangled. Because human hair is so thin and tends to contract when it dries, you may not even notice a problem until the appendage starts to show signs of distress.

So be extra vigilant. (Who doesn’t love to check out those adorable little fingers and toes anyway?) If your babies wear mittens or gloves, check their fingers for signs of wrapped-around threads once they’re removed. Check toes after removing booties or slippers. If a child is inconsolable and you can’t figure out why, he could be in pain from a hair tourniquet. If you find a problem, you’ll need a sharp tool like a small knife to cut the hair if you don’t see a loose end. Get some help to hold your child still while you remove the hair so no one gets hurt. If you’re unable to disentangle the hair or thread, contact your physician immediately. He may recommend soaking the limb in a hair-dissolving solution (like Nair) or have you bring the baby into the office or emergency room. (If you can’t reach a doctor, head to the hospital or urgent care center right away.) It’s important not to delay removing the hair because serious infection or loss of the limb can occur. I have long hair, so there’s always lots of my “shedding” around the house, but even if your hair is shorter, women tend to lose a lot of hair soon after giving birth due to hormonal changes, which can make the possibility of hair tourniquets more likely. So frequently examine those little fingers, toes and private parts!

12 comments:

  1. Thanks for writing this up Susan. I came home tonight to find my 5-month old with a "hair tourniquet" on his toe. There's no loose end but the circulation looks okay so we're not yet in panic mode. We too got another child through infancy without having this happen ...

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  2. I'm glad my experience was helpful to you! Hopefully, you'll be able to remove the hair without too much trouble and trauma. Thanks for your feedback!

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  3. We're going through it right now, so I'm looking for other advice. The doctors want to put her out and cut her foot open to "make sure" they get the hair.

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  4. Knocking her out seems a little extreme unless she's losing blood flow to the foot or it looks really infected. I'm not a medical professional, but I think I'd get a second opinion. Maybe they could just numb the foot or keep it under observation. It all depends on how serious the situation is, I guess. It should be treated like any other injury, depending on its severity. But for her sake, the more conservative the better, I would think.

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  5. My 20 month old daughter was cranky for three days and we couldn't figure out why. I was putting her socks on one morning and saw her middle toe was purple. The hair was so deep that I had to rush her to the emergency room. Her doctor had to cut it out and soak her foot in case of infection. I am telling everyone with babies because I have never heard of this before. And I have two older kids.

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  6. That's great that you're helping to spread the word about hair tourniquets. Judging by these comments, I'm beginning to think that they're not as rare as I once thought! I'm so glad you got prompt treatment for your daughter and everything turned out okay. Every pediatrician should advise parents to check their babies for hair tourniquets on a regular basis and to seek immediate treatment if the limb is turning a different color and/or the hair cannot be removed.

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  7. Anonymous2:57 PM

    This happend to my son on his toe and now just last night on my daughter on her finger. These were very difficult to remove. What hair dissolving solution would any one recommend

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  8. I can't recommend any products specifically because I haven't used them, but some doctors recommend products like Nair -- any of those products that women use on their legs to dissolve the hair so they don't have to shave.

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  9. Anonymous4:26 PM

    I too never thought to look for that until today I happened to notice my 2 month old had hair wrapped around two of his toes it wasnt so bad to where i couldnt get it off from just my hands but it left the strangles mark real good, im just glad I know now to look for it.

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  10. Anonymous12:47 PM

    Thanks, Susan. I, too, just learned about hair tourniquets the hard way. I was changing my 2 month old son's diaper (2nd child) and happened to notice one of his toes was blue/purple. I saw hair wrapped around 3 of his toes and managed to get most of it off, but there was still some wound tightly around one of his little toes... so tight that I couldn't see it or get it out. I took him to our pediatrician who tried to gently scrape it with a scalpel, but he couldn't see it or get to it either. He sent us to a pediatric surgeon who then realized there was still hair wrapped around one of the other toes as well. There wasn't any discoloration on that toe, but he said there was still enough of an indentation that he was sure there was hair around it as well. He numbed both toes and cut little incisions on each side of them to make sure the hairs were cut loose. He told us the indentations could stay for up to a week, so not to be too alarmed by that. My husband asked about using Nair, and the surgeon said that is something you can try right when you first notice a hair tourniquet. I'm glad I took him to the doctor though, because I only still suspected hair wrapped around the discolored toe... I thought I got it all off the other toes, and it turns out I didn't. I've always been careful about checking my infant's fingers, but now I know that toes are just as important to check!

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  11. Anonymous7:53 PM

    I can honestly say that I had never heard of it and now at this time my youngest son who is 7 months old now had to have surgery to remove the hair wrapped around the last four of his toes on his right foot and the scary part is, is the fact that our local hospital here where I lived though that I did it on purpose and so needless to say they tried to say I was a neglectful mother for not noticeing it prior but the really funny part is the surgon didn't even see it with the naked eye he had to use these specail glass to remove the rest of the hair but I am very thankful I saw it when I did cause the doctors told me if I would have waited any longer my son would not have his last four toes and all of this happend when he was approx 8 weeks old.

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  12. Anonymous11:28 PM

    I just got back from the ER with my 3 month old because of this! It was scary and yes, I have two others who has never had an issue with this. I noticed she was fussy but assumed it was her first case of diaper rash :(

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