Mum's warning as baby nearly loses toes to hair tourniquet

Molly Walker nearly lost a toe in 2016 to a hair tourniquet.
Molly Walker nearly lost a toe in 2016 to a hair tourniquet. Photo: Scott Walker/Facebook

When Alex Upton realised that the reason for her baby son Ezra's irritability was a hair tourniquet tightly wrapped around four of his toes, she feared the worst.

Alex awoke to her 10-week-old's inconsolable cries and so tried to feed him. He refused any milk and it was then that the 26-year-old mum from Paignton, England noticed that his toes were alarmingly swollen and red.

Upon further inspection, she could see a single strand of her own long hair had wound its way around four of Ezra's tiny toes, cutting off circulation for what was estimated at around 12-14 hours. "It was a horrible experience," she told People.

After some difficulty, the hair was gently removed with tweezers and Alex took him to hospital, where he was treated for minor injuries that he is now fully recovered from. 

In another close call involving a hair tourniquet, 19-week-old Molly Walker nearly lost a toe in 2016, with dad Scott taking to Facebook to warn parents.

"This picture was taken about 45 minutes after the hair was removed. Unfortunately, the hair managed to cut all the way through Molly's skin, completely around her toe, but it could have been worse had it gone much longer untreated, or if the hair wasn't accessible."

Scott said that the doctor advised parents to always check a baby's feet for hair if they are inconsolable.

Dr Daniel Golshevsky, Consultant Paediatrician at the The Royal Children's Hospital Melbourne spoke to Essential Baby about hair tourniquets.

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1. How does a hair tourniquet occur?

The medical term is hair tourniquet, from the French term tourner, meaning 'to turn'

It occurs when a strand of hair or fabric becomes wrapped (turns) around a finger/toe/genitalia due to repeated movement in a confined space (ie: within a mitten, jumpsuit, sock, etc). Evolving discomfort causes more rubbing and movement, which worsens the entrapment. This cuts of drainage, which results in swelling - and this then impacts on blood supply, which can endanger the digit.

2. What are the most serious consequences?

The most common consequence is pain and discomfort, worsened during the removal process, and possibly requiring an anaesthetic. Although rare, the serious complications include infection, tissue damage (with scarring), bone damage and in the worse-case-scenario, amputation of the affected digit.

3. How to avoid it?

It is common for new mothers (especially if breastfeeding) to lose hair, and if they are the primary carer of the baby, there's more chance a hair will fall out and become a hair tourniquet. It also occurs in some older children with disabilities, who might wear nappies and be wheelchair-bound.

The most important method of avoidance is to quickly check the hands, feet and nappy areas before dressing the baby/child. Awareness is the best prevention. Also be sure to check the inside of socks/mittens/jumpsuits to ensure there are no long/loose threads.

Alex Upton urges parents to check their babies' feet regularly, saying it's a safety lesson she had no idea she had to learn.

"I'm normally really safety conscious with the kids, but I had never expected this to happen to us," she said.

"My advice to any parents would be when you're changing [your baby] or putting on socks, or even getting them out of the bath, check thoroughly and make sure you turn clothing inside out first to remove any stray hair."