WEST JORDAN — Six-year-old Kathryn O’Mara was doing what hundreds of girls do on school day mornings. But this time, while mom was grooming her hair, something unexpected happened: she fainted.
“When I got into the bathroom and Mommy was doing my hair, I felt dizzy and I couldn’t hold myself up anymore. So I had to just fall down,” Kathryn said.
Fortunately, her mom, Maria O’Mara, was standing right behind her.
“I just saw her in the mirror,” Maria said. “Her body just gave way. Her knees buckled right from under her. I was lucky I was right there. I was able to kind of grab her under her arms.”
Kathryn didn’t have a fever, she wasn’t sick, and she had no history of fainting. Collapsing as she did came as a complete surprise.
“It was so strange to suddenly be looking at her and her eyes rolled back,” Maria said. “She wasn’t unconscious for very long, but it was really unsettling.”
Kathryn experienced what is called “hair-grooming syncopy.” While scary sounding, it really isn’t. In fact, this kind of syncopy, which simply means fainting, is common.
“It’s often when kids are getting their hair done," said Susan Etheridge, a pediatric cardiologist with Primary Children’s Medical Center. "But I have had a few children where they’re actually blow drying their hair with their arms above their head.”
Etheridge says children and teens, mostly girls, are vulnerable because while their bodies are rapidly transitioning toward adulthood, the blood pressure remains in the “kid” stage.
Blood tends to pool in the legs, leaving less in the core and in the brain.
“Hair grooming is usually after a shower, so they’re hot,” Etheridge said. “They groom in the morning, so they probably haven’t eaten or had anything to drink. That’s why it would be more likely to happen during hair grooming than other parts of the day.”
Preventive measures are simple. Young people should stay hydrated by drinking plenty of water and they should eat an appropriate breakfast before grooming. It’s better, Etheridge says, to groom in a room where the air is moving and, when possible, sit rather than stand.
If a child feels that they are about to faint, has dizziness, blurred vision or clouded thinking, Etheridge says they should get as close to the ground as possible, lie flat with legs slightly elevated and allow the blood to return to the brain. She also says they should get something to drink as soon as possible.