Baby’s swollen toes reveal common and sometimes dangerous injury

Heather Fricke's 10-week-old son suffered from blue toes after a piece of hair was tied around his toes. Getty Images

One mom’s social media plea is urging all parents to check their baby’s toes as often as they can.

In December, Heather Fricke posted a photo of her 10-month-old son’s swollen toes on Facebook, after being tangled and tied up in her hair.

“I fed and changed both his diaper and clothes for a party we were going to … I handed him to his dad Tommy to put socks on him when Tommy realized his two toes were blue and tied together with a strand of hair,” she wrote on the now-viral post.

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“I immediately took off what I could and had to take him to the ER where we spent an hour and a team of five doctors trying to get the rest of my hair off his two toes.”

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Fricke continued that doctors told her if she had not taken off the hair when she saw it, her son’s two toes could have been amputated. She added she was told her son’s genitals were also something to watch out for.

“Our hair can be such a hazard but it’s something that we never really pay attention to.”

How common is this?

These injuries are called hair tourniquet or tourniquet syndrome and this is when anything, including hair, wraps around an appendage and leads to the constriction of blood flow, says Dr. Sean M. Fox, an associate professor at Carolinas Medical Center in North Carolina.

“[It] has the potential to cause significant harm,” he says.

Fox adds although the number of cases of the syndrome is not widely available, having something like hair wrap around a child’s toe is not unusual.

“It is included on the list of considerations that would cause a child, particularly an infant, to become inconsolable,” he tells Global News.

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He adds toes are the most common body parts affected by tourniquet syndrome, and it can lead to swelling. It is also often unnoticed because infants tend to wear socks for a long duration of time.

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“Often it is hair, but it can also be a thread from clothing as well,” he continues. “Other items, like rings or jewelry can also cause the same problem … these are a little more challenging to deal with.”

What parents should do

Fox says if you do find a piece of hair or thread wrapped around your child’s toe, unwind it as soon as possible. If the hair is trapped in the genitals area, contact your doctor right away.

“Ideally, this is something that can be detected early and/or prevented altogether,” he says. “Simply checking all areas of your child for anything that is wrapping around an extremity before it becomes constrictive will help avoid this situation.”

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He adds if it is hair in particular, you can even use a hair removal cream like Nair to remove it.

“If the thread [or] hair is removed successfully and there was no significant damage, then simple wound care with topic antibiotic ointments are often all that is needed,” he says.

“If the swelling had led to some potential poor blood flow, then often, follow-up with orthopedic doctors is arranged.”

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