There will be days when your baby just does not stop crying. You’ll make sure he’s well fed, cleaned up, and comfortable, but the wailing won’t stop. These are the days that expectant parents truly fear. Even if you’re doing everything else right, your baby will have fussy days that are out of your control. Recently, a friend of mine was having such a day, so she brought her baby to the doctor thinking there must be something wrong. There wasn’t, but the doctor examined each of the baby’s toes and fingers as soon as he got to the appointment. Thinking there might be something seriously wrong, my friend explained that she asked the doctor if he had any idea what the problem might be. The doctor then explained a common problem called hair tourniquet.

Just as grotesque as it sounds, a hair tourniquet happens when a piece of hair becomes wound around a baby’s appendage. This is not a common problem for adults because we are coordinated enough to remove the hair as soon as we feel it on our skin. When a baby feels a hair on his hands or feet, he cannot do anything about it, so the hair becomes wrapped around many times until it is cutting off circulation. Hair tourniquets are obviously not that serious in themselves, but they can become an issue if they go left unnoticed. Without checking for them when your baby has a “fussy day,” he or she could lose circulation for a long enough period of time to do permanent damage.

If you notice that your baby has a hair tourniquet, try unwinding it on your own. If the skin is broken underneath or the finger or toe is not returning to its normal color, make sure you bring your baby to a pediatrician as soon as possible. If you can’t unwind the hair with your hands, bring your baby to the doctor so that he can remove it with a depilatory cream. Studies show that such creams are much safer than scalpels or needles. With a sharp object, a doctor could inadvertently cause more trauma to the skin by causing a cut or laceration.

Hair tourniquets aren’t something you should constantly be concerned about, but your doctor will definitely check for them on fingers and toes if you explain that your baby will not stop crying for no reason.

Source: Aisling O’Gorman et al: Hair Tourniquet Management. Pediatric Emergency Care Volume 27 Issue 3 pp. 203-204 March 2011

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