Ten little fingers and ten little toes – what’s more precious than a baby’s chubby little digits? It’s easy to obsess over your little one’s fingers and toes based on cuteness alone, but there’s a good health reason to keep an eye on them, too. Your baby’s fingers and toes are at risk for a hair tourniquet, a dangerous medical condition.
What Is A Hair Tourniquet?
Have you ever gotten a hair or thread stuck in your sock and tangled up in your toes? It’s annoying and sometimes uncomfortable, but you’re capable of taking off your own sock and sorting it out. Babies are also at risk for getting hairs wrapped around a finger or toe, or even a penis. However, what seems like a simple annoyance for an adult can be extremely dangerous for a baby. A hair tourniquet can actually cut off the circulation to the affected finger or toe; an adult can remove the hair before that happens but a baby can’t.
A finger or toe with compromised circulation will swell up as blood and other fluids back up. The hair or thread can’t stretch with the swelling, so it can cut into the finger or toe as it swells. That’s painful and can lead to infections. In extremely rare and severe cases, the digit may actually die and have to be amputated.
Finding A Hair Tourniquet
Many parents discover a hair tourniquet because the baby is crying and can’t be consoled with the usual suspects (feeding, a nap, cuddling, etc.). If your little one is upset without a clear cause, check all ten fingers and all ten toes (and the penis, if relevant) for signs of a thread or hair that’s pinching baby’s skin and causing painful swelling. In general, you can give your baby a once-over at bath time to check for hairs and threads that could become a problem.
Sometimes, the hair or thread will be wrapped too tightly or embedded too deeply for you to see. If you notice that your baby’s finger, toe, or penis is swelling or discolored, you should always seek immediate medical attention.
Treating A Hair Tourniquet
Most of the time, you’ll discover the hair or thread at home and you can remove it yourself. Use a bobby pin or something similarly slim and not sharp and slip it under the hair or thread. Then you can simply pull on the bobby pin to break the hair or thread.
If the finger, toe, or penis is swollen and discolored, you should take your little one to the pediatrician or the ER. A doctor will need to examine the affected body part and determine the best way to remove the tourniquet and check for other damage. If it’s deeply embedded, local anesthesia may be necessary. In severe cases, the doctor may need to make a small incision along the baby’s toe or finger in order to sever the hair or thread.
Avoiding Hair Tourniquets
Many households have at least one member with long hair. It doesn’t take much hair to wrap around a baby’s toes in a dangerous way – a couple of inches is enough. Of course, you don’t have to shave your heads to protect your little one.
The best way to avoid the harmful effects of a hair tourniquet is to regularly check your little one’s fingers, toes, and penis to make sure there aren’t any hairs or threads wrapped around them. You may also want to tie long hair back while changing diapers (it’s not a bad idea anyway as far as keeping your hair clean) to decrease the likelihood of hairs falling into the baby’s diaper.
You should also check for hairs or threads if your baby is crying and you can’t find the cause. Hair tourniquets are painful and may be the source of your baby’s upset.
Tell Us Your Stories!
This is a relatively common condition, but it seems like few parents are aware of the existence and risks of a hair tourniquet. Has your little one ever had one? Tell us about it in the comments!