There are few things more terrifying than a viral Facebook photo that starts out with "I just want to warn parents," am I right? And lately, a lot of these posts have been about hair wrapped around baby toes, otherwise known as an actual hair tourniquet. It’s definitely a thing as evidenced in the news previously, and I’ve seen it popping up in my mom groups a lot. I personally had never heard of this before browsing Facebook, and my kid’s pediatrician has never mentioned this either so my mind is blown.
In case you aren't aware either, according to the National Institute of Health, a “hair tourniquet” is when a strand of hair gets wrapped around your baby’s appendage — whether it’s their fingers, toes, tongue, or even genitals, as I have seen in horror stories posted on social media. The hair wrapped around the appendage cuts off circulation, and it’s actually got its own clinical name: “hair tourniquet syndrome." Signs this may be happening to your infant include excessive crying, discoloration of the appendage, swelling of the appendage, and an “indentation or groove on the appendage if no hair is visible,” Health Line notes.
But thankfully, pediatricians say it’s not super common (though it does happen), and it’s even less common for there to be permanent damage done — as long as you catch it quickly. Dr. Danelle Fisher, pediatrician and vice chair of pediatrics at Providence Saint John’s Health Center in Santa Monica, California, tells Romper, “It is very rare to get a hair tourniquet and even more rare to lose the appendage, but there are isolated cases that do occur. And it is even still more rare for this to be life threatening, but in the most rare of rare circumstances where the appendage would get infected and not treated, then life may be threatened.”
Dr. Gina Posner, a board-certified pediatrician at MemorialCare Orange Coast Medical Center in Fountain Valley, California, adds, “It is not very common that it gets wrapped around and stays wrapped around. It is usually and thankfully not life-threatening, but your child can definitely lose a toe or finger (or even a penis) from the hair being wrapped around the affected appendage for a long period of time.”
So should we be constantly checking our baby’s diapers, fingers, and toes? Posner tells Romper you’ll probably know there could potentially be a hair tourniquet situation if your baby is crying uncontrollably and you can’t find another reason. Then, “a quick check of the toes, fingers and diaper area is warranted.” Fisher says, “It is a good idea for parents to give their babies a quick once over glance at all fingers, toes and genitalia during bath time, diaper changes, and/or when changing clothes on a daily basis.”
If you notice your baby does indeed have a hair tourniquet and the appendage is turning red or purple, here’s what to do: “Definitely medical help should be sought when an appendage has a hair tourniquet and there is a color change to red or purple. It may be dangerous to remove without medical supervision. If a hair tourniquet is caught early and easily removed and the appendage appears to be normal in color and movement, it is safe to watch it at home. Parents should call their doctor for any other circumstances where there could be more serious involvement,” Fisher says.
However, if it doesn’t look like it’s swelling or changing colors yet, and it looks like you should be able to remove it without using a sharp object, Posner says, “I would try to remove it myself first. I can’t imagine it making it worse unless you try to remove it with something sharp! If you successfully remove it and the color quickly returns to normal, I wouldn’t go to the doctor. If you can’t remove it or you remove it and the specific area still appears affected, go to the doctor immediately. If you can’t remove it, also go to the doctor.”
In a lot of the viral Facebook posts I've seen, parents suggest that the hair was often stuck in the footed part of a pair of pajamas, and that they didn't catch it until they changed their baby for the day. Hair is notorious for getting stuck in clothes while doing laundry, so maybe just a quick sweep in the footies can help, too.
Dr. Danelle Fisher, pediatrician and vice chair of pediatrics at Providence Saint John’s Health Center in Santa Monica, California.
Dr. Gina Posner, a board certified pediatrician at MemorialCare Orange Coast Medical Center in Fountain Valley, California.