Hair Tourniquet Syndrome

Hair tourniquet syndrome occurs in infants. It happens when a piece of hair or thread wraps around a body part. The tightly wrapped hair or thread constricts normal blood flow and causes pain. Infants under 4 months are most at risk since this is the time when their mothers are losing hair due to hormonal changes. A tourniquet can happen anywhere on the body, but it most often occurs on a finger or toe. A tourniquet may also develop around the penis, scrotum, labia, wrist, or ankle. In severe cases, a hair tourniquet can lead to infection or tissue death.

CAUSES

Hair tourniquet syndrome can occur when the hands or feet are covered in pajamas or mittens and a loose string or hair becomes wrapped around a finger or toe.

SYMPTOMS

Infants with hair tourniquet syndrome will usually cry a lot and cannot be soothed. The area affected is often red and swollen.

DIAGNOSIS

This condition is diagnosed by a physical exam.

TREATMENT

A hair tourniquet must be removed immediately by your caregiver. The course of action will depend on the location and severity of the problem. Treatment may include:

  • Medicine that numbs the area (local anesthetic) or medicine that helps the infant to relax (sedative).

  • Immobilization to keep the infant still during the removal procedure.

  • Use of an ointment to dissolve the hair or thread.

  • Use of scissors, forceps, probes, or other tools to unwrap or cut the hair or thread.

  • In severe cases, the use of a scalpel to make cuts (incisions) in the skin to access the tourniquet.

  • Antibiotic medicines.

  • Consultation with a specialist to assess any loss of function in the affected body part.

PREVENTION

  • Change your child's clothing regularly.

  • Bathe your child regularly. Check for areas of pain or swelling.

HOME CARE INSTRUCTIONS

  • Give your child pain medicines as directed by your caregiver.

  • If prescribed, give your child antibiotics as directed. Make sure your child finishes them even if he or she starts to feel better.

  • Follow any hygiene instructions from your caregiver.

SEEK MEDICAL CARE IF:

  • Your child continues to be irritable.

  • Your child's pain and swelling do not go away as expected.

  • Your baby is older than 3 months with a rectal temperature of 100.5° F (38.1° C) or higher for more than 1 day.

  • Your child is crying for several hours and cannot be soothed.

  • You have questions or concerns.

SEEK IMMEDIATE MEDICAL CARE IF:

  • Your baby is older than 3 months with a rectal temperature of 102° F (38.9° C) or higher.

  • Your baby is 3 months old or younger with a rectal temperature of 100.4° F (38° C) or higher.

MAKE SURE YOU:

  • Understand these instructions.

  • Will watch your child's condition.

  • Will get help right away if your child is not doing well or gets worse.