Keeping Babies Safe from 'Tourniquet' Hair

By ACSH Staff — Feb 09, 2016
While toe-tourniquet syndrome is not considered a widespread health threat to infants, unsuspecting parents should be aware of the situation in which strands of the mother's hair become accidentally wrapped around a baby's finger, toe or other appendage. If left undetected it can lead to painful consequences.
baby toes via Shutterstock baby toes via Shutterstock

"Ten little fingers. Ten tiny toes. The sweetest of smiles and a cute little nose. All these add up to a very special thing a baby. The greatest of gifts that life can bring..." Anonymous

Moms and dads everywhere breathe a sigh of relief when their babies are born happy, healthy and with all 20 digits. But there's a concern that occasionally comes to light, and while it's not considered a widespread health threat, it is good to make unsuspecting parents aware of a "common" crib-based situation called "toe-tourniquet syndrome."

This syndrome which involves strands of hair becoming accidentally wrapped around an infant's finger, toe or other appendage can lead to a problems ranging from brief moments of infant pain if detected quickly, to potential amputation if left undetected.

Few parents may even have heard of it, but toe-tourniquet syndrome is prevalent enough to have its own medical definition. It's defined as the "circumferential strangulation by human hair or fibers of one or more toes in infants, which may induce prolonged ischemic injury (due to lack of oxygen) and tissue necrosis (tissue death)."

How does this occur?

Doctors and researchers say that new mothers undergoing physical changes in their postpartum period have a tendency to lose hair, and those strands can eventually end up in their newborn's crib. As infants roll around, long hairs can inadvertently wind themselves around a baby's finger or toe.

How prevalent is this?

Statistics are come to hard by, which is why some believe it's underreported. But by the same token, the syndrome may simply not occur that often. That said, a 2006 meta-analysis cited 210 cases of "hair-thread tourniquet syndrome" in which "44% involved the penis, 40% the toes, 8.7% fingers, and another 6.8% represented other sites."

A search performed on the website of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention produced a December 2002 report, calling hair tourniquet syndrome, "a relatively common finding in infants."

This syndrome has recently re-generated some attention, with a publicized case involving Scott and Jess Walker of Wichita, Kansas, a couple who had a harrowing experience last month with daughter, Molly, a 5-month-old who had a hair wrapped around her toe.

Molly s parents became concerned when their daughter s crying seemed out of the ordinary. They grew increasingly worried as they watched their daughter become flushed and overheated. Scott and Jess removed Molly s socks in an effort to cool her down only to find that a strand of hair had wrapped so tightly around her toe that it was cutting through her skin, and cutting off her blood circulation.

Luckily, Jess and Scott worked quickly to cut the tiny hair, thus returning the flow of oxygen to Molly s little feet. In an effort to inform new parents of this upsetting experience, Mr. Walker chronicled the experience on his Facebook page and it was shared more than 25,000 times.

I certainly never imagined the chain reaction that followed, but it s great to know Molly s story is bringing so much awareness to the parenting community, Walker said.

While this situation isn't something for new parents to be unduly frightened about, it does seem worthy enough for them to be aware of. So the next time your child's crying spell lingers or escalates beyond the ordinary, do your family a favor and perform a quick body scan. That simple task could make you all rest a lot easier.

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