Alicia Phillips was doing her little sister’s hair when the symptoms began.
As Alicia wrote on Facebook, she was curling her sister Gracie’s hair before church when she had “one of the scariest moments of my life.”
Alicia had only been working on her sister’s hair for about five minutes when she noticed the young girl looked pale and ill. When Gracie began to gag, Alicia asked if she was going to get sick, then ushered her own children out of the bathroom.
Instead of throwing up, Gracie became faint. Alicia wrote that about 30 seconds after the nausea began, she looked at Gracie and was stunned by her appearance:
She is extremely pale with blue lips and starts to pass out. Her pupils got really big and I caught her. I start screaming for Dale to come help. Gracie has a blank stare and look on her face and is completely unresponsive and limp for about a minute. Her hands were also shaking. Very seizure like.
Gracie recovered quickly and told her family she felt better but was still confused. Alicia wrote that “she says she remembers hearing us talk but couldn’t see us.”
I experienced one of the scariest moments of my life this morning with my little sister and I am going to put this out…
Worried, they took the girl to the hospital, where the doctors ran several tests and discovered that Gracie suffers from a condition called hair-grooming syncope. Alicia wrote:
Turns out there is something called hair-grooming syncope affects kids from ages 5-13. They said they see about [one to five] cases a year. Turns out brushing, curling, braiding, or drying can cause nerve stimulation on the scalp and cause some children to have seizure like symptoms.
According to the Cleveland Clinic, syncope is the medical term for passing out or fainting. It is caused by a temporary drop in blood flow to the brain and can occur at any age, among people with or without health problems.
A study of 1,525 patients with syncope in Clinical Pediatrics found that 111 of those children were triggered by hair-grooming. Of those with hair-grooming syncope, 78-percent were girls. Hair-grooming syncope in girls tended to be triggered by combing and brushing rather than cutting.
The study found no abnormalities among the patients with hair-grooming syncope and determined that the hair grooming trigger was a benign form of reflex syncope.
There are warning signs that can alert someone that an episode of syncope is coming, such as heart palpitations, lightheadedness, or nausea. The Cleveland Clinic recommends sitting or lying down and putting your legs up if you feel those symptoms coming on.
There are many possible causes of syncope, including more serious medical conditions, so it is a good idea to go to a doctor after an episode.
Alicia wrote that they had never heard of hair-grooming syncope before:
We were told if she ever starts to feel nauseous or light headed while getting her hair brushed to sit down and take a break.
After the frightening experience, Alicia wanted to warn others about what to look for if a child starts to get faint while getting his or her hair brushed:
“If a kid ever complains of their belly hurting or feeling light-headed while they are getting their hair done, make sure they take a seat and keep a close eye on them! Apparently very rare but so scary to see it happen!”