What's a Baby Hair Tourniquet, and How Can You Prevent It?

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By Anisa Arsenault, Associate Editor
Updated December 21, 2017
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Hair can end up in some pretty annoying places: your mouth, your food, the back of your shirt, on all of your socks. Luckily, you can do something about these pesky strands. Baby, however, is going to need a little help. And as one family learned, if it ends up in the wrong place, that can be dangerous.

Scott and Jessica Walker of Wichita, Kansas, couldn’t figure out why their then-19-week-old Molly was screaming last week. As the upset baby began to overheat, Jessica took her socks off. That’s when they noticed her toe.

“This is called a hair tourniquet, which is literally a strand of hair that, while inside a sock, unexplainably wraps around a toe so tight that it can cut through the skin and potentially cut off blood circulation,” Scott wrote on Facebook. “What happened was new to me, but apparently not totally uncommon, so I figured I’d share with my fellow parents out there.”

Thanks to mom’s handiwork with tweezers and a magnifying glass, the hair was removed in a matter of minutes. But Molly’s toe remained swollen an hour later.

The most remarkable thing about Scott’s post? The reaction from other parents and grandparents. Based on the 20,000 comments, the overwhelming response is along the lines of “this happened to me too!”

Some commenters chimed in with their own stories and tips:

“I can’t tell you how many times this has happened when my kids were babies. Loose threads inside the toes of socks or sleepers can do the same thing. I found that if you wash their things inside out, you reduce the chance of this happening. Make sure when you fold their clothes to check the seams for loose or fraying threads and stray hairs. It can be a hassle to have to turn everything back right side out, especially if you are an exhausted new parent. But, isn’t it worth the few minutes of extra work if it saves your baby’s life?”

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“It happened to my granddaughter while I was keeping her a year ago. It was too tight to use tweezers. Looked on WebMD. It said use hair remover such as Nair. It worked in just a few minutes. And my baby never cried, so I wouldn’t have known if she hadn’t been barefoot.”

Other commenters explained this can happen to other appendages:

“This happened to my baby but on his finger!”

“My son’s penis got one of my hairs wrapped around, thank god I changed diapers a lot and caught it before it swelled to badly. Scary indeed.”

If your child is inconsolable, check those little fingers, toes and private parts for a hair tourniquet. If it goes undetected, worst case scenarios can involve surgery and even removal of the body part. That’s exactly what happened to a baby boy in China, whose father didn’t realize a hair was wrapped around his toe for 10 hours. While we’ll warn you it’s pretty graphic, you can take a look at those repercussions here.

Updated Dec. 2017

Please note: The Bump and the materials and information it contains are not intended to, and do not constitute, medical or other health advice or diagnosis and should not be used as such. You should always consult with a qualified physician or health professional about your specific circumstances.

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