Imagine being at the salon for a typical haircut and you suddenly faint when the stylist touches your head. Or you’re brushing your daughter’s hair in the morning and she suddenly passes out. It may sound too weird to happen, but a small group of children across the globe experience dizziness and loss of consciousness when another person touches their locks. This is due to a rare medical condition called hair-grooming syncope.
What Is Hair-Grooming Syncope Syndrome?
“Hair-grooming syncope is a form of fainting that is associated with combing or brushing one’s hair,” Dr. Cherilyn Cecchini, M.D., Board-certified pediatrician with LifeSci PR tells Parentology. “It is a relatively uncommon condition, but some pediatricians have witnessed a handful of cases throughout their careers.”
The condition is most common among children, mostly females, between the ages of 5 and 13. As one might imagine, the symptoms often cause alarm in parents and hairdressers who “cause” the event, and for good reason.
“Symptoms may include light-headedness, nausea, sweating and dimmed vision during hair grooming,” Cecchini explains. “These symptoms are then followed by loss of consciousness or fainting. Seizure-like movements may occur after any episode of fainting associated with hair grooming.” But why does this condition occur, and is it dangerous?
Why Does It Happen?
Syncope means to lose consciousness — like fainting — and it occurs when the body tries to regulate blood pressure.
“To understand this phenomena,” Dr. Blair Grubb, a cardiologist at the University of Toledo Medical Center in Ohio, tells Parentology, “you must first know that the human brain measures blood pressure through a series of special cells called mechanoreceptors.” Grubb explains that these cells line every blood vessel of the human body, and when they are stretched (such as when blood pressure increases) they increase their rate of electrical discharge. “The brain then measures this as a reflection of blood pressure and will increase or decrease pressure depending upon whether it is high or low. Increased blood pressure will cause increased stretch and increased electrical output to the brain.”
According to Grubb, humans have these sensitive mechanoreceptors all over the body, including the skull. The patch of mechanoreceptors on the skull, which conforms roughly to the fontanelles of a newborn (commonly known as “soft spots”), helps fetuses regulate blood pressure as they move through the birth canal.
“Following birth,” Grubb explains, “[these mechanoreceptors] do not serve any useful purpose but are still present. If these areas are stimulated by pulling on hair follicles attached to this area — usually when brushing or pulling on the hair — they can send a signal to the brain that blood pressure is markedly elevated. The brain will respond by trying to lower it. The blood pressure can lower to such an extent that the individual can lose consciousness and thus faint.”
Though not well understood, and though certainly scary, Cecchini explains that there’s no real cause for concern. “Hair-grooming syncope is not dangerous unless a child suffers from head trauma due to falling after losing consciousness,” she says. “Some patients may experience repeat episodes, but most children outgrow this trigger in their later teens.”
She further explains that adequate hydration, staying seated during hair grooming, and standing slowly can all help reduce the risk of fainting.
“Although the experience of fainting can be scary, most children and teens recover quickly,” Cecchini says. “If your child or teen faints, be sure to visit your pediatrician. Recurrent episodes of fainting may require a more comprehensive evaluation.”