What is hair tourniquet syndrome?

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Hair tourniquet in children: Overview

A hair tourniquet is the term for a piece of hair or a thread from clothes or a blanket that wraps around a child's finger or toe. It may also happen on other parts of the body, like a wrist, an ankle, or the penis. The hair may wrap so tightly that it blocks blood flowing into the area. This can damage the tissue.

Sometimes the hair is easy to see. But sometimes it's so deep in the folds of the skin that it's hard to see.

Your doctor may remove the hair or thread in an emergency room or clinic. If the hair is deep, it may have to be removed by a surgeon in an operating room.

How can you care for your child who has a hair tourniquet?

After the hair or thread is removed

  • If the area is swollen, keep it elevated to help the swelling go down.
  • Keep the area dry. Don't soak it. Your doctor will tell you when it's safe to get it wet.
  • If your doctor told you how to care for your child, follow those instructions. If you didn't get instructions, follow this general advice:
    • After the first 24 to 48 hours, wash the area with clean water 2 times a day. Don't use hydrogen peroxide or alcohol, which can slow healing.
    • You may cover the area with a thin layer of petroleum jelly, such as Vaseline, and a nonstick bandage.
    • Apply more petroleum jelly and replace the bandage as needed.
  • Be safe with medicines. Read and follow all instructions on the label.
    • If your child is not taking a prescription pain medicine, ask your doctor if your child can take an over-the-counter medicine.
    • If the doctor gave your child a prescription medicine for pain, give it as prescribed.
    • Store your child's prescription pain medicines where no one else can get to them. When you are done using them, dispose of them quickly and safely. Your local pharmacy or hospital may have a drop-off site.

Hair tourniquet in children: When to call

Call your doctor now or seek immediate medical care if:

  • Your child has new or worse pain.
  • The skin near the area is cold or pale or changes color.
  • Your child has trouble moving the area.
  • Your child has symptoms of infection such as:
    • Increased pain, swelling, warmth, or redness around the area.
    • Red streaks leading from the area.
    • Pus draining from the area.
    • A fever.

Watch closely for changes in your child's health, and be sure to contact your doctor if:

  • Your child does not get better as expected.

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The content above contains general health information provided by Healthwise, Incorporated, and reviewed by its medical experts. This content should not replace the advice of your healthcare provider. Not all treatments or services described are offered as services by us. For recommended treatments, please consult your healthcare provider.