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By Sarah Hunstead
Sarah Hunstead
23 May, 2019

Hair tourniquets…a risk to tiny toes (and other parts).

Picture source: What to expect forum https://bit.ly/3hdOj4v

In my time in the paediatric Emergency Department I have seen many little fingers and toes (and even a penis or two) with hair tourniquet syndrome. 

Hair tourniquet syndrome happens when a (usually single) strand of hair or thread winds tightly around a finger, toe, penis or even clitoris. The hair winds so tightly and shrinks, so that it cuts off the circulation to the body part, resulting in significant pain, swelling, and eventually loss of the appendage. 

Fingers and toes are the most common body parts affected, particularly in babies. After birth, mum has increased hair loss which can increase the risk of a hair tourniquet. I remember dropping hair everywhere after having my children!

So how do you know if your baby has a hair tourniquet? The first thing you may notice is that your child is very upset, and can’t be consoled. Hair tourniquets are painful. After a period of time the finger or toe will begin to swell and become discoloured, sometimes swelling so much that you can’t see the offending hair anymore. 

So if you have a baby who is unusually inconsolable, take off their socks or onsie, and check their toes and fingers. 

If you suspect your child has a hair tourniquet, you need to visit your doctor or local emergency department urgently. There are different methods the doctor may use, from hair removal cream, or cutting the hair away. It is important that you don’t try and cut the hair away yourself if the toe/finger is very swollen, as a moving target is very tricky and often magnifying equipment is needed to ensure all the hair has been taken away.  Some parents choose to try hair removal cream at home, however it should not be used if the skin is broken, and it can be quite difficult to tell if all the hair has come away, so a trip to the doctors will still be necessary. We recommend you leave it to the experts with the necessary equipment!

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