Mothers suffering from post-pregnancy hair-loss are being warned of the little known danger to their new-born’s toes and fingers from stray hairs that end up on babies mittens and clothes.
A single strand of hair can wrap itself around a child’s toe, cutting off circulation and potentially leading to amputation because of a rare condition called ‘toe tourniquet syndrome.’
Affecting all appendages such as fingers, penises and ear lobes, the syndrome causes inflammation as the circulation is cut off and infections can develop as the hair cuts into the flesh as it tightens like cheese wire.
A toe freed of a hair tourniquet. The toe has had to be cut longitudinally to divide the hair
While toe tourniquet syndrome is uncommon, doctors nationally observe around 60 or so cases a year and most are resolved without the loss of the appendage
One review reported that 43 percent of cases of children with the syndrome had their toes affected, 24 percent their fingers and 33 percent involved external genitalia.
The hair is wrapped around the digit by a repetitive movement of the appendage in a confined area such as hands in mittens or feet and legs in pyjamas.
Because human hair is so thin and in the instance of colours like blonde almost invisible to the naked eye, medical professionals can diagnose the swollen area as a foreign body reaction or infection.
Displaying classic signs of toe tourniquet syndrome the swelling caused by the errant hair is visible
Most children who suffer from toe tourniquet syndrome are four days to 19 months old and usually present to doctors inconsolably crying and in obvious distress.
The reason why such a young age group is at risk is down to the postpartum hair loss which 90 percent of mothers experience.
However, some intentional cases have been cited in countries other than the United States.
Kimberly Grubb of Temple Terrace Florida was perplexed when her daughter Norah Saed's toe became seriously swollen
The infection caused by toe tourniquet syndrome is clearly visible (left) while the swelling (right) caused Norah Saed to cry uncontrollably
Baby Norah made a complete recovery after four days
'I've treated about three or four of them myself, but a lot of people are not aware of it, even some doctors,' said Dr Muhammad Ali Hussain,
senior plastic surgery registrar at Canberra Hospital to the Canberra Times.
Toe Tourniquet Syndrome
- Is a medical condition where a hair or thread becomes tightly tied to a finger, toe or other appendage cutting off circulation and potentially causing amputation.
- The problem usually affects young babies when hair ends up in their socks and is most common when mothers are shedding hair post-pregnancy.
- Identified with magnification and cut away usually with small scissors, the rare condition is missed by some doctors
They get entangled and the mother doesn’t notice what has happened until the time they start crying and they don’t know exactly what is happening, why they are crying.
By the time they present it’s already a couple of days and it has been cutting through the toe.
In a fair-coloured child and with blonde-coloured hair you can’t identify there is a hair.
Even under a microscope it’s difficult.’
In some cases the hair has wrapped around the child’s toe so tightly that it has folded under the skin, making it difficult to detect.
If the loss of circulation is not corrected by doctors quickly, the child may lose the toe, finger or appendage to amputation.
The condition is most commonly caused by hair inside babies socks or mittens which wraps around their toes or fingers
‘Four nurses came in, held her down,’ said mother Kimberly Grubb, whose baby Norah Saed almost lost her toe to the syndrome last year to WTSP
‘They had scissors and tweezers to open it up.
‘They had to hold her down and she was screaming and I was crying from that, just from her screaming.’
Luckily, doctors removed the offending hair and Norah did not lose her toe, although it took three days for the swelling and dis-colourisation to subside.
To remove the hair, doctors traditionally use a magnifying glass and small scissors, although a chemical depilatory such as Nair could be used to dissolve or weaken the hair.
Doctors have advised all young and first time mothers to beware of toe tourniquet syndrome
Doctors advise parents to wash their clothes separately to their children’s and to check their mittens and clothes thoroughly for stray hairs.
Furthermore, they advise all parents to mention it to doctor if he or she doesn’t bring it up during an examination of a child with a swollen or dis-coloured toe.
‘And you can’t let people blow you off.
‘If your kid’s toe is blue there’s got to be a reason.’