Plagiocephaly and brachycephaly in adults
The ramifications of untreated cephalic disorders are poorly understood at present. This may be the result of the relative rarity of the condition prior to the ‘Back to Sleep’ campaign. As a result, the lasting effects of untreated cephalic deformities are not yet fully known. The lack of available data on the lasting effects of these conditions has led to some less than ideal outcomes. Insurance companies are often quick to classify cranial deformities as strictly cosmetic, despite the American Medical Association’s stated position to the contrary.
Possible effects of untreated plagiocephaly and brachycephaly
One result of untreated cephalic disorders, specifically brachycephaly, which is being studied in detail is sleep apnea. The deformations caused by brachycephaly and the resulting effects on muscle strength and palate formation can lead to a higher incidence of sleep apnea in adulthood. Apnea is a serious condition which, in severe cases, may require the use of oxygen support during sleep.
Other conditions which are believed to be the result of untreated cranial deformities include hearing and vision problems. The change in skull shape can alter the size and shape of the eye socket, significantly affecting an individual’s ability to see. Permanent poor visual motor coordination may also result if a baby’s ability to track moving objects was affected early on. Hearing can be affected when the ear position is significantly altered as a result of cranial deformity. A Finnish study on infant response to external stimuli demonstrated that babies with cranial deformities were slower than their peers, and suggested the brain function and hearing might be affected by these conditions. If cranial deformities remain untreated, the resulting hearing problems are unlikely to resolve.
TMJ, an occasionally painful condition involving a misaligned jaw, is common in adults and children with cranial deformities. Treatment is not always able to resolve this condition, and a person’s ability to open and close their mouth or chew may be significantly affected. A 2010 study of the potential neurobehavioral consequences of deformational (positional) plagiocephaly also suggested potential psychological problems for children with the condition, citing earlier studies that suggested caretakers, parents, and peers are able to perceive minor asymmetries, and reactive negatively to them. Teachers are more likely to view asymmetrical children as less intelligent, caregivers are less attentive, and peers are more likely to tease or bully children with craniofacial deformities.
The same 2011 study suggested that there may be underlying problems which make a baby more susceptible to the development of positional cranial deformations. These underlying factors may be related to nerve or muscle function, and may lead to slower cognitive and motor development in general, regardless of treatment. As the study itself noted, however, there is very little research available on the long-term implications of positional cranial deformities, and more will need to be done before any general conclusions can be made.