Cleft lip or cleft palate is a facial disfigurement, which affects roughly one in every 600 babies. The difference made to a person’s appearance by a cleft lip can be dramatic or less problematic, and this equally applies to the health problems that can be caused by the condition.
What is a cleft lip or cleft palate?
A cleft lip or cleft palate can refer to a range of craniofacial defects (affecting the head and face). It can mean relatively innocuous defects such as a small ‘dent’ in the lip, to more obviously problematic disfigurements such as a groove, which continues into the roof of the mouth. Such issues can exist separately or in connection with other facial defects. Such defects can prove to be a challenge for patients due to the difference in their appearance, but more significantly, there are medical and health issues which can be caused, meaning that treating a cleft lip or palate goes beyond aesthetic reasons.
What health issues can be caused by a cleft lip and cleft palate?
The problems or issues for a patient’s health caused by a cleft lip or cleft palate can become quite serious. Since the condition primarily affects the mouth and nose, the effects are unsurprisingly most keenly felt in the patient’s bodily functions related to these areas. This means that suffering from a cleft palate can lead to problems with breathing, eating, and speech. Problems with breathing may lead to conditions such as sleep apnoea, and there is an increased risk of problems that affect the airways, including laryngitis and sinusitis. Hearing may also be affected – in fact, hearing loss is a common condition amongst those with cleft palates, and can indeed be progressive, meaning it gradually becomes worse. In addition, there may be psychological and social effects felt by those with cleft palates.
How can these problems be treated?
“Otolaryngologic [ear, nose and throat] evaluation is of paramount importance in providing adequate care for this patient population,” writes Dr. Laura Swibel Rosenthal in a recent study. The primary concern for treating cleft palate sufferers has to be ensuring that they can breath as correctly and easily as possible. This can be achieved through corrective surgery, although several stages of care may be necessary. In addition, since hearing loss is common, regular hearing tests are necessary to ensure that hearing does not become progressively worse. Other specialist doctors such as pulmonologists may be involved, as well as physical therapy and additional support such as social care or psychiatry.