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Be on the Lookout for Hair Tourniquets

Posted Sep 12 2008 11:07am
I clearly remember the day I thought that one of my boys would lose a toe! The twins were about six weeks old, and my mother-in-law was visiting from Alaska. She was bathing Caleb in the sink when she noticed that one of his toes was turning blue! Upon closer examination, we realized that a piece of hair had become wound around two of his toes so tightly that it was cutting off the circulation. In fact, the strand was embedded so deeply that we could only see the cut lines in his toes and the hair stretched between the two toes. Holding Caleb carefully so that he wouldn’t wiggle, we managed to slice the hair between his toes with a small knife and slowly unwind it. It was difficult to know if we had retrieved all the hair, but fortunately the blood started coming back into the toes and the blue color disappeared. I was so grateful to my mother-in-law for noticing the problem because it could have resulted in the loss of one or two toes! Even though I had already successfully steered two other children through infancy, I had never heard of this phenomenon or been warned of the possibility. Experts call this a “hair tourniquet,” and it can be a real threat to infants. Hair can get wrapped around fingers and toes—and even penises! (In fact, I read an article where a baby girl lost her clitoris due to “hair tourniquet syndrome.”) Even pet hair or loose threads from a blanket or piece of clothing can become entangled. Because human hair is so thin and tends to contract when it dries, you may not even notice a problem until the appendage starts to show signs of distress. So be extra vigilant. (Who doesn’t love to check out those adorable little fingers and toes anyway?) If your babies wear mittens or gloves, check their fingers for signs of wrapped-around threads once they’re removed. Check toes after removing booties or slippers. If a child is inconsolable and you can’t figure out why, he could be in pain from a hair tourniquet. If you find a problem, you’ll need a sharp tool like a small knife to cut the hair if you don’t see a loose end. Get some help to hold your child still while you remove the hair so no one gets hurt. If you’re unable to disentangle the hair or thread, contact your physician immediately. He may recommend soaking the limb in a hair-dissolving solution (like Nair) or have you bring the baby into the office or emergency room. (If you can’t reach a doctor, head to the hospital or urgent care center right away.) It’s important not to delay removing the hair because serious infection or loss of the limb can occur. I have long hair, so there’s always lots of my “shedding” around the house, but even if your hair is shorter, women tend to lose a lot of hair soon after giving birth due to hormonal changes, which can make the possibility of hair tourniquets more likely. So frequently examine those little fingers, toes and private parts!
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