How common is hair tourniquet?

Hair tourniquet is a common condition, but it is often resolved at home.
Hair tourniquet is a common condition, but it is often resolved at home.

Hair tourniquet syndrome is a rare medical disorder in which part of the body such as a finger, toe or penis gets wrapped in hair very tightly. This is most common in babies if the parents, siblings or caretakers have long hair. Because a lot of hair tourniquets are resolved at home, they are probably underreported. The most common location is the penis (44%) followed by toes (40%) and fingers (9%). The most commonly affected toe is the third toe (32%). About one-third of the cases will have multiple fingers involved. Hair tourniquet syndrome likely occurs as an infant’s fingers/toes come into contact with hair or similar fiber in an enclosed covering of mittens/socks or a similar situation. As the infant moves their fingers back and forth, the hair progressively encircles the fingers. Wet hair especially may constrict as it dries, leading to additional strangulation and complications.

What is hair tourniquet syndrome?

Hair tourniquet syndrome is a medical condition where a hair or thread becomes tightly tied to a finger, toe or genitals, cutting off circulation and potentially leading to infection and amputation. This condition is more likely to be seen in babies who are younger than four months of age as hormonal changes in the mother may cause her to lose more hair than usual during this time period. Babies may cry more than usual due to pain and discomfort. Redness and swelling may be noticed in the affected area.

How is hair tourniquet syndrome treated?

Once you notice the affected area and tourniquet, it is recommended to not pull it because it may cause a deep cut or severe injury. The following methods can work to remove the hair

  • Use Vaseline, olive oil or coconut oil to lubricate the area and try to gently slide off the hair.
  • Soak the toe in water to help the hair to relax (hair constricts when dry and expands when wet). It may be easy to unwind the hair  with a fingernail while the hair is wet.
  • Darker hair is easier to see against the skin compared to lighter hair, so you may notice the hair tourniquet sooner. Hair wrapped around the baby’s toe may be harder to detect if the hair is blonde or lighter in color. When the hair is unnoticeable, use a magnifying glass and tweezers to lift up the hair and snip it carefully with baby nail scissors.
  • Stretch the skin around the tourniquet and place a piece of clear scotch tape horizontally over the hair. Lift it up carefully and hopefully the hair will attach itself to the tape. Either slide the hair off or while it’s lifted up or snip it carefully with baby nail scissors.

If the baby’s toe (or other area) is already turning blue, don’t waste precious time trying to remove the hair at home. The patient may need to be taken to a hospital immediately. The way in which the hair tourniquet is removed depends on the location and severity of the condition. The doctor may use the methods below

  • They may apply an ointment to dissolve the hair tourniquet.
  • They may use scissors, forceps, a probe or other tools to unwrap or cut the hair tourniquet.
  • In very severe cases, the doctor will use a scalpel (surgical knife) to make incisions in the skin to access the tourniquet

Once the tourniquet is removed, the patient may be prescribed painkillers and antibiotics to avoid any discomfort.

What is the outlook of the patient after removing a hair tourniquet?

Hair tourniquet syndrome is a rare and dangerous but preventable condition. Prompt diagnosis and treatment of the condition is vital to attain a good outcome and prevent further harm. Parents should be warned of excessive hair loss, and they may need to  monitor the baby regularly, especially if they are crying without any reason. Although hair tourniquet syndrome is rarely reported in older children/adults, any individual with compromised mentation/communication abilities may also be at risk. Despite the distressing nature of the condition, outcomes are usually excellent. The loss of an affected area is extremely rare, and hence, it should not be a concern or worry. In most cases, the patient does not suffer from any residual disability and only a small scar may be left post recovery.

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Medically Reviewed on 10/16/2020
References
Medscape Medical Reference

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