Invisible snare ... fine hairs around a baby's toe can cause significant injury.

Invisible snare ... fine hairs around a baby's toe can cause significant injury.

A baby is brought to the hospital emergency department with excruciating pain in a toe which is red and swollen. Parents and doctors are mystified by what is causing the pain.

Only when the appendage is put under a powerful microscope does it become clear that a hair has wrapped itself around the toe and is slowly slicing through the skin.

Left untreated, the toe could require amputation.

Toe tourniquet: left untreated, the toe could become unviable and require amputation

Toe tourniquet ... left untreated, the toe could become unviable and require amputation

Canberra Hospital senior plastic surgery registrar Muhammad Ali Hussain has shed new light on toe tourniquet syndrome in a paper published in the journal Modern Plastic Surgery and presented at a conference in Malaysia.

Dr Hussain said the syndrome was rare and usually involved a stray hair from a blonde-haired woman falling on to carpet and wrapping itself around the toe of a fair-skinned baby or toddler.

''I've treated about three or four of them myself, but a lot of people are not aware of it, even some doctors,'' he said.

''They get entangled and the mother doesn't notice what has happened until the time they start crying and they don't know exactly what is happening, why they are crying.

''By the time they present it's already a couple of days and it has begun cutting through the toe.

''In a fair-coloured child and with blonde-coloured hair you can't identify there is a hair. Even under a microscope it's difficult.'' Dr Hussain said the injury was more common in summer when children were less likely to be wearing socks.

Generally there is little that parents can do to avoid a toe tourniquet injury, however Dr Hussain and his colleague, consultant plastic surgeon Yasantha Rajapakse, said simple precautions could reduce the risks of some other injuries they frequently saw in children at the Canberra Hospital.

Dr Rajapakse said small children could suffer serious injuries if the wind or an older sibling slammed a door and a finger was jammed.

''That's one of our most common presentations: little child, door slams, usually as a result of an older brother or sister,'' he said.

Dr Rajapakse said a simple door stopper could reduce the chances of a door slam injury.

''I actually tell a lot of my friends who have kids … if you've got toddlers running around, they're actually a great thing to prevent the classic presentation,'' he said.

Cords from kettles and hot coals from barbecues could result in burn injuries.

Children also had a habit of getting fingers stuck inside items such as key-ring ornaments. In some cases assistance was required from the fire brigade to free trapped fingers or hands.

Dr Rajapakse said that unlike adults, children often required general anaesthetic to allow procedures to take place.

He said while precautions were important, children would always be prone to accidents.

''You can't live in a police state at home and you can't prevent certain things except by keeping a close eye on a child,'' Dr Rajapakse said.