Hair tourniquet is a medical condition wherein a hair or other thread becomes tied around a toe or finger tightly, so as to put the digit at risk of damage. Occasionally, this is known as toe tourniquet.
The problem usually arises in babies and small children when hairs and thread are lost loosely inside socks. They can become spontaneously tied round a toe and will tend to tighten with wriggling. Natural hair is much more likely to undergo this phenomenon than spun thread.
Incidents similar to this can also occur during sleep, usually under duvets or sheets which have loose threads which can constrict the toes.
As this is a condition primarily of young children, symptoms are rarely reported. The child will become suddenly uncomfortable and miserable. As the digit is often inside a sock, the cause may not be clear.
The ligature will not stretch in response to the toe swelling and will therefore cut into the skin in more severe cases, like a cheese-wire.
The ligature is cut or dissolved as quickly as possible. Often it is possible to lift a portion of it to enable cutting, but in a severe case the ligature must be cut through the skin. This is, of course, injurious to the child, but may prevent loss of the digit. It must take place on the side of the toe, where there are no nerves or tendons.
Other treatment not requiring minor surgery includes use of a chemical depilatory, such as the over-the-counter product Nair, to dissolve or weaken the hair. This option is not indicated if the hair tourniquet has cut into the skin. Use of depilatory products such as Nair is not an effective treatment on nylon or other fibers that are not human hair.
Despite the distressing nature of the condition, outcomes are excellent. Loss of the toe is extremely rare, as is any residual disability. In rare cases the loss of a digit is possible. Rubber bands can have the same effect.