Hair Tourniquet Syndrome: A warning for parents

- Recently a Kansas father's unusual Facebook post went viral. Scott Walker took a photo of his 5-month old daughter Molly's foot.   A piece of hair had become wrapped around one of her toes. It was so tight; the strand was cutting off her circulation and cutting into her skin.

That's when thousands of other parents weighed in -- many saying the same thing had happened to their babies.

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They call this “hair tourniquet syndrome.” It typically happens in the first 4 months of life.  That's when new mothers are losing their hair because of post-pregnancy hormonal changes.

It happened to Maria Edgeworth's then 5-month old daughter Braelyn the night of January 4th.  That’s when the Senoia nurse says her "mom instincts" kicked into overdrive.

Maria says Braelyn is a happy, easy baby.  So, she didn’t seem fussy that night, when Maria began taking off her footies.

"I was undressing her to give her her bath.   And I noticed on her toe, something was wrapped around it,  her second toe. I knew exactly what it was."

The toe looked cinched in the middle, and it was a different color from the other toes.

"Me, being a nurse and a mom, I just completely freaked out,” says Edgeworth.

The pediatrician's office was closed, so Edgeworth rushed Braelyn to the ER.

"The nurse kind of calmed me down and said it wasn't near as bad as some they've seen in the past,” she says.

Dr. Hansa Bhargava, a Children's Healthcare of Atlanta pediatrician and Medical Editor of Atlanta-based WebMD says she's seen hair tourniquet syndrome before.

I had a little baby who presented with crying,” Bhargava says. “And the baby had been crying for hours.  The parents brought the baby in and I undressed the baby.  Unfortunately, there was a little thread around her toe, and it was very, very red."

Dr. Bhargava says if the problem goes unnoticed, the hair or string can cut off circulation to the digit it’s wrapped around, and it can cut into the baby's skin.

"One of the first things we do as pediatricians is undress the baby to see if there is a toe or finger, or even, unfortunately, their private area being caught with a thread or a hair,” Bhargava says.

In the emergency department with Braelyn, the doctor used a magnifying glass, trying to find the hair cutting off Braelyn’s circulation.  He couldn’t find it. To be on the safe side, the doctor numbed Braelyn's toe, and made a small cut on both sides to release the pressure.

"And within about 10-15 minutes, the color in the toe went back to normal,” Edgeworth says.

Today, Edgeworth says, Braelyn is fine.  But she learned a lesson, about checking her fingers and toes.

“And I know for little boys it can happen in private areas as well,” she says. “And. And to check at every bath time or diaper change, just look at our baby’s toes."

“We check on a daily basis now,” she says. “Fingers and toes.”

Most of the time, parents you can take care of hair tourniquet syndrome at home – by carefully cutting the hair or thread.  But if your baby cannot be soothed, is running a fever  or you suspect your baby may have an infection, get it checked out by your pediatrician.

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