1. In January 2014, Elizabeth Smith, a mother of two, had a stroke caused by a visit to the hair salon.
2. A CT scan revealed that an artery in her neck had been damaged by this shampoo chair and sink at Blowbunny: Blow Dry & Hair Extension Bar in San Diego, according to court documents.
She filed suit against the salon in December 2015.
3. In the medical world, they actually have a term for this: beauty parlor stroke.
4. While someone’s hair is getting shampooed, the arteries in their neck can get cut or torn due to hyperextension or any whiplash-type motions that happen during a salon visit.
“When one of those cervical arteries is damaged in some sort of way, you can get what’s called a dissection, which is damage of the inside of the blood vessel, leading to abnormal flow and clotting, and then those clots can shoot north into the brain and cause a stroke,” said Steven R. Zeiler, M.D., Ph.D., head of stroke research at Johns Hopkins.
5. Smith’s first symptoms appeared eight days after a visit to the salon. “I had weakness in my left arm and leg,” Smith told BuzzFeed. “I just didn’t feel right. I was standing up to point, and I couldn’t stand.”
“But by the time the paramedics had arrived, my symptoms had resolved.”
Six days later, Smith got very nauseous and was projectile vomiting.
“I went downstairs to unlock the door, and I was able to get a cold pack out of the freezer because my head was hot,” she said. “They took me by ambulance to the emergency room.”
6. After months of rehabilitation, Smith is suing the salon and is trying to spread the word about this relatively unknown phenomenon.
“I was a bit skeptical when she first came in and said she had a stroke two weeks after she had gone in there, and there was no ostensible traumatic event there that seemed like it could be medical causation,” said personal injury attorney Spencer Busby. “When we got into it and saw what the doctors wrote, it was independent, reputable doctors who tied it into this event.”
7. “I asked every friend I had to check with their stylist, and it came back about 80% [of stylists] knew — not about the mechanism, but knew you could have a stroke getting your hair washed. So I thought, If they all know, this isn’t right,” said Smith.
“Also, the effects were so devastating. Even though I’ve recovered physically, there’s a huge emotional component.”
8. The exact cause of beauty parlor strokes is still not entirely known because it is so rare.
“In a beauty parlor stroke, it’s unclear if it’s because the neck is kinked or if it’s that the beautician kind of jerked the head around. We may never know, because these are relatively rare events,” said Zeiler. “To put it into perspective, driving your car is probably more dangerous than going to a beauty salon. It’s a very rare thing.”
9. This injury has caused Smith to spread the word about beauty parlor strokes in hopes they can be avoided in the future.
“They’re teaching techniques so that some people have their hair washed in a different way as opposed to having the neck lay back,” said Busby. “That makes Elizabeth very happy. One of the things she’s focusing on here is that they’re aware of this danger and take some precautions in the future of it not happening again.”
10. To prevent future beauty parlor strokes, look for a chair where the neck is adjustable and there’s adequate neck support.
“Just really pad it up with towels so you’re not hyperextending. So what if you get a little wet when you wash your hair?” said Smith. “It’s a simple fix. Even if it doesn’t happen every day to every person. I’ve been getting my hair cut for years, but it only takes one time.”
11. And if you’re ever concerned you’ve had a stroke, go straight to an emergency room.
“Common symptoms are loss of a use of a limb; all of a sudden you get weak on one side of the body; your face begins to droop; you begin to speak like you’re drunk; you might lose vision; the world is spinning around you horizontally or vertically; double vision,” said Zeiler.
12. “My doctor told me, ‘You’re lucky to be here,’” said Smith. “I said, ‘I know.’”
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