Hair Tourniquets in Babies: Your Need-to-Know
On This Page
- What is hair tourniquet syndrome?
- What parts of the body do hair tourniquets impact?
- Who’s most at risk for hair tourniquet syndrome?
- What are signs of hair tourniquet syndrome?
- What causes hair tourniquet syndrome?
- How is hair tourniquet syndrome treated?
- Can hair tourniquet syndrome be prevented?
- What’s the prognosis for hair tourniquet syndrome?
In January 2022, a Missouri mom of three took to Facebook to share how a strand of wayward hair sent her 5-month-old son to the emergency room. Her little boy, Logan, was suffering from a rare affliction called hair tourniquet syndrome. His condition got so bad that doctors were this-close to performing surgery on the infant. Luckily, the situation resolved itself with the help of some Nair, of all things, no anesthesia necessary. At this point you may be wondering: What exactly is hair tourniquet syndrome? And how can I protect my baby? Here’s all you need to know about hair tourniquet syndrome and keeping your baby safe.
What is hair tourniquet syndrome?
Hair tourniquet syndrome (also called hair-thread tourniquet syndrome) is when a strand of hair—or a thread from clothes or a blanket—tightly wraps around a baby’s appendage, causing pain, swelling, and possibly cutting off circulation and damaging tissue. The condition is considered rare, but also underreported. In one 10-year report from a single hospital in Chicago, for instance, there were 81 hair tourniquet syndrome cases reported in children.
What parts of the body do hair tourniquets impact?
While hair tourniquet syndrome can affect any body part, the third toe and third finger are most impacted. Hair tourniquets have also been known to corkscrew around a baby’s…
Who’s most at risk for hair tourniquet syndrome?
Overall, 5-month-olds are the most susceptible to hair tourniquet syndrome, but the average age for hair tourniquets around the finger is 3 weeks old. And the most common age for hair tourniquets around the toe is 4 months old. Meanwhile, hair tourniquets that impact genitalia are more common in the 2-year-old set. Research notes that circumcision is a risk factor for developing penile hair tourniquet syndrome.
What are signs of hair tourniquet syndrome?
Often, the first tell-tale of hair tourniquet syndrome is unexplained, excessive, and inconsolable crying. That upset and irritability may lead you to carefully inspect your baby to see what might be wrong. At that point, you might notice a red, swollen, and tender area on your little one’s appendage, such as Baby’s finger, toe, or penis. You may also notice an indentation on your baby’s appendage that resembles a normal crease but is new and may be filled with fluid. There’s also a possibility that the new groove emits a foul odor.
What causes hair tourniquet syndrome?
Between 68 and 90% of birthing parents experience postpartum hair loss. (You can thank hormonal shifts after giving birth for that.) For some the uptick in loose and falling hair can last for six months or less. But for others, postpartum hair loss can linger as long as 18 months. It’s this exposure to loose strands that puts babies at a higher risk for hair tourniquet syndrome. At the same time, your baby is more susceptible to hair tourniquet syndrome when they’re wiggling around in mittens, socks, or feetie pajamas. The repetitive motion can cause hair or loose threads to wrap around their fingers or toes. (Hair is more commonly associated with toes and external genitalia, while threads are more often found around fingers.)
How is hair tourniquet syndrome treated?
There are a few ways to treat hair tourniquet syndrome in babies. If you can see the hair or thread with your naked eye or by using a magnifying glass, you may be able to carefully remove it with a pair of tweezers. If you cannot—or it’s in a delicate location—do not hesitate to visit the doctor. When your child’s doctor can see the hair in question, they may opt to use a hair removal cream to help dissolve the offending strand. This method is not recommended if your bub has broken skin, has an allergy to depilatory cream, or if the tourniquet involves female genitalia. It’s also not effective if a thread is creating the tourniquet. And it’s not something to try on your own! Within up to 10 minutes of application, the hair should break, quickly loosening the tension around your bub’s appendage. One report noted that hair removal cream is successful in 64% of cases, with some babies requiring a second application. When this method is not an option, your child’s provider may…
Unwind the hair or thread with fine scissors and forceps.
Cut the hair or thread with scissors, a suture needle, or a blade. (Here, a blunt probe is slid under the hair or thread to protect Baby’s skin.)
Perform surgery while Baby is under anesthesia. (Research has shown that only 6% of patients require surgery.)
Can hair tourniquet syndrome be prevented?
While there’s no way to completely shield your little one from the possibility of hair tourniquet syndrome, there are things you can do to help prevent it from happening, like…
Blow dry your hair. When hair is wet, it stretches out and when it dries, it shrinks back to its normal size. That means, if your hair is wet when it wraps around your baby’s finger, toes, or another appendage it can tighten when it dries.
Tie your hair back. When you’re taking care of your baby, pull your hair up with a soft band, like a scrunchie, to help keep your hair from falling on your bub—and to help prevent further breakage.
Brush often. This can help loose strands fall out away from your baby. (Be sure to safely dispose of all errant strands.)
Wash socks this Laundering socks and mittens inside out is thought to help prevent hair tourniquet syndrome.
Check your baby. Regularly monitor your little one’s finger, toes, and genitals, making sure there are no stray strands or threads wrapped around them. (Survey their immediate surroundings, like their activity mat and the changing station, for lingering hairs, too.)
What’s the prognosis for hair tourniquet syndrome?
The good news: With early diagnosis and treatment, chances are your baby will make a full recovery, requiring no further treatment. If left untreated, however, hair tourniquet syndrome can lead to severe complications, including…
Lack of blood flow or oxygen to the affected area
Loss of function to the affected appendage
In very rare cases, partial or complete amputation
Baby Care 411:
- How to Change a Diaper
- How to Give Your Baby a Bath
- How to Dress a Newborn
- How to Trim Your Baby's Nails
- A single center retrospective review of hair tourniquet syndrome and a proposed treatment algorithm. Journal of Pediatric Surgery. September 2015
- University of Chicago: Hair Tourniquets
- Cleveland Clinic: Hair Tourniquet
- Case Report: Penile Strangulation Secondary to Hair Tourniquet. Frontiers in Pediatrics. August 2020
- Investigating the prevalence of postpartum hair loss and its associated risk factors: a cross-sectional study. Iranian Journal of Dermatology. December 2021
- Cleveland Clinic: How To Deal With Hair Loss After Pregnancy
- Hair tourniquet syndrome: Successful management with a painless technique. International Journal of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine. March 2015
- Can washing socks without flipping inside out cause hair tourniquet syndrome? A claim with two case reports. Journal of Pediatric Orthopaedics B. March 2017
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Disclaimer: The information on our site is NOT medical advice for any specific person or condition. It is only meant as general information. If you have any medical questions and concerns about your child or yourself, please contact your health provider.