These days it’s common to see babies with flat heads, and you might have even seen one or two sporting funny looking helmets to correct the deformity. But what if you have reached adulthood with a flat spot on your head, having been born at a time when knowledge of this condition was limited? Can plagiocephaly be treated in adults and older children?
The rise of plagiocephaly
Plagiocephaly has gained much media attention in recent years. While the Back to Sleep campaign of the 1990s may have successfully reduced the incidence of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS), long periods spent lying in the supine position also left many children with misshapen heads.
Fast forward 20 or so years, and awareness about plagiocephaly is beginning to pick up, with doctors and health visitors providing advice for parents and private clinics offering helmet therapy to correct severe cases of plagiocephaly in infants.
But how about those teenagers and adults who were born before the information and treatment options we now have came to light? Is there a limit to the age at which plagiocephaly can be treated?
Plagiocephaly treatment for adults
Unfortunately, the only known treatment for plagiocephaly in adults involves surgery, and few surgeons are willing to undertake the procedure. Given that the condition is thought to be largely cosmetic, the risks and costs associated with surgery outweigh the benefits.
Today, parents are usually advised to ‘reposition’ their babies from an early age. This involves varying the position in which the child plays, sits and sleeps to relieve pressure on the back of the skull. Repositioning is often successful in treating mild cases of plagiocephaly, but where it fails, a helmet can be used to correct the deformity.
As babies become toddlers and they begin to move about more independently, there’s a limit to what can be achieved though repositioning. And while a helmet can be used to treat moderate and severe plagiocephaly in babies, by the age of around 14 months, the bones in the skull begin to harden and this method becomes ineffective, too.
Outlook for adults with plagiocephaly
If you’re an adult who has recently become aware of plagiocephaly, this is probably not the answer you wanted to hear. However, you can take some comfort in the fact that the condition is relatively benign and is not known to be associated with any health risks later in life.
While awareness of plagiocephaly is on the rise, the advice provided to parents by healthcare professionals remains inconsistent and there are still babies being left with easily preventable head shape deformities to this day.
So while it’s regrettable that you are unable to correct your own flat spot, you can still make a big difference by making other parents aware of the urgency with which they must act if they are to treat their children.
If the child of a friend or family member has a misshapen head, gently suggesting that they get it checked out can save a lot of heartache further down the line. It may be useful to show them this short presentation on plagiocephaly, which explains how to spot the signs and briefly covers the treatment options that are available.
So spread the word, and try not to worry too much about the shape of your own head. Remember, you’re your own worst critic and other people are far too busy going about their daily lives to notice minor irregularities in the appearances of others.
Bronwyn Zelst Cook