A lot of us know the pain of long hair. Every time my partner vacuums the living room, I follow the vacuum cleaner to pick up the tufts of my hair that got stuck in the carpet and left behind. Every time I do the laundry, I think it is full of spiders and freak out, but they are not spiders, they are just knots of my hair. I have found my hair in unspeakable places (I have a cat) and have learned to identify the unique face my toddler makes when she gets one of my hairs stuck in her mouth. But errant strands of hair can be more than a mere annoyance. They can be a health hazard to tiny baby toes.

According to Today.com,  Scott and Jessica Walker of Wichita, Kansas, discovered this problem when their 19-week-old daughter started wailing inconsolably at lunch and couldn’t be quieted with food, rocking, soothing noises, or any of the other tools in a new parents’ toolbox. Finally, they thought maybe she was getting too hot and started taking off her clothes, and that’s when they found this:

Had a small scare this afternoon with Ms. Molly. What happened was new to me, but apparently not totally uncommon, so I…

Posted by Scott Walker on Thursday, January 21, 2016

A strand of hair had wrapped around baby Molly’s toe and turned into a little tourniquet and was causing her immense pain. Luckily, Jessica Walker is a nurse and with a pair of tweezers and a magnifying glass managed to solve the problem right away, but this sort of thing is apparently pretty common and can get very bad if not caught. One commenter said they had gone to the emergency room because by the time it was discovered on their baby, it had twisted down to the bone, poor thing.

Basically, a “hair tourniquet” is what happens when a strand of long hair gets twisted up around a baby’s toe and just gets tighter and tighter. You’d think the hair would break, but it doesn’t. (I remember being told in college that silk has a higher tensile strength than steel.) I noticed hair getting wrapped around my baby’s toes once or twice when she was very small, and it always worried me to think what might have happened if I hadn’t caught it.

According to Today, pediatric nurses and doctors are trained to look for this sort of thing when a small child is inconsolable and wailing and the source of the problem can’t be found, but that means it’s good for parents to know about, too. While going over all our other options, we might as well check the socks before heading towards the emergency room.

This photo shows what can happen when a hair wraps around a baby toe and a parent doesn’t notice. It can also happen to a finger or even a penis, but those are much more likely to be noticed. Baby feet go in baby socks, and that means we can easily overlook this kind of thing. I know I noticed a hair wrapped around my newborn’s toes once or twice and thought, “Gosh, if I hadn’t seen this now maybe it could have become a problem later.”

But apparently the “hair tourniquet” does often become a problem later.

A “hair tourniquet” does not seem like the kind of public health crisis that requires us all to be on guard all the time, but it is fairly common. And it’s a good thing to keep in mind, because it’s a frequent cause of “inconsolable crying” in babies too small to express themselves effectively. So if a baby is crying and crying and something seems wrong but they’re not hungry and you can’t figure out what the problem might be, let this be a reminder to just take a peek in the socks to make sure everything’s OK down there.