By Cailin Loesch
After a rare condition caused by a single strand of hair landed her 5-month-old son in the emergency room, Sara Ward from St. Louis, Missouri is speaking out about the ordeal in hopes of educating fellow parents.
In a Facebook post shared on January 25th, Ward explains that the trouble began when unbeknownst to her or her husband, a strand of hair wrapped itself around little Logan’s toes. As the following week unfolded, the boy developed a condition called hair tourniquet syndrome, which saw him bounce from his pediatrician’s office to an urgent care and later, the emergency room at SSM Health Cardinal Glennon Children’s Hospital.
“Hair tourniquet syndrome is when there is a piece of hair, or a thread of another material like a piece of cloth, that’s tightly wrapped around a body part. It’s usually a finger or a toe, but it also can be the genitals,” Dr. Sara Holmstrom, a board-certified pediatrician and a pediatric emergency medicine fellow at Lurie Children’s Hospital in Chicago explained to Good Morning America. As a result, blood circulation to that area is cut off.
“This was my first time and even with being a third-time parent, I was not aware of this beforehand,” Ward, a mom of three, added. “I had never seen this or this [had] never come up with any of my friends or family members that are moms. So I was definitely kind of in the dark on just how severe this can be.”
Ward explained that the ordeal began when she and her husband noticed that one of Logan’s toes was “looking a little bit pink,” but the couple “didn’t really think much of it that night because he didn’t seem bothered by it at all.”
Not yet overly concerned, the couple went about their weekend as normal, but then things took a turn.
“By Monday, it hadn’t improved and it was starting to look redder and we were kind of noticing this line that was going across the middle of the toe,” Ward said. It was then that she took her son to the pediatrician, where she first learned about hair tourniquet syndrome, which, according to Holmstrom, is “pretty uncommon overall:” only 81 cases of patients ranging in age from 2 to 22 years old were reported from May 2004 to March 2014.
“It most often occurs in young infants under six months, most frequently on the toe, and most of the time, patients do not need surgery,” Holmstrom added.
It took doctors and nurses 40 minutes to try to untangle the hair that got wrapped around Logan’s toe, but despite their efforts, by the end of it they “did not feel confident that they got it.”
The little boy was sent home and his parents were told to keep an eye on his condition. However, within just a few hours, Logan’s toe “was starting to look a little bit purple.” The Wards took their son to an urgent care center, and they sent him straight to an emergency room. There, he was admitted to the hospital for an overnight stay, and doctors began considering surgery.
“I was just kind of in shock the whole time that it was getting to this point,” Ward said. “I still thought it was going to be an easy fix … I think that’s where a lot of people don’t understand the severity that these hair tourniquets can cause and that it can get to that point.”
Fortunately, Logan did not require surgery. His swelling began to improve, and he was discharged from the hospital.
“We’re actually not really sure what happened,” Ward said. “Some of the swelling started to come down. So we’re not sure if maybe the hair removal creams might have worked. I mean, honestly, we couldn’t even tell you because we never even really saw the hair.” Now, Logan’s toe is “fully back to normal.”
But not all children have such a smooth recovery. According to WebMD, if left untreated, hair tourniquet syndrome can become dangerous, potentially leading to nerve injury and a loss of function in the affected area. So what can parents do to help protect their children?
Dr. Katie Lockwood, a pediatrician at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, as well as Holmstrom recommend that parents seek medical care if their child is fussy and unconsolable, or if they notice any discoloration or swelling of a finger or toe that doesn’t go away in time.
“Be aware of hairs and always be checking the toes and fingers,” Ward adds. “If [you] see that a hair strand is wrapped around it, try to remove it as quickly as you can and if you can’t get it, then seek help from your pediatrician right away.”