Could my baby be developing a flat head? And should I be worried about cataracts?



Q. My baby daughter is two months old, and I have noticed that she tends to lie on her right side. I have placed her to sleep on her back as advised by my health visitor, but I think that her head is becoming progressively flatter on one side. Is this anything to worry about?

A. The Back to Sleep campaign, which encourages parents to put their babies to sleep on their backs and not on their tummies, has dramatically reduced the number of infant cot deaths. But it seems that some babies who sleep exclusively on their backs sometimes develop skulls that are either flat at the back or asymmetrical. Usually this does not matter, because the shape of the skull has no effect on the brain inside, and as the baby grows the skull remodels itself into a "normal" shape. But a few babies, particularly those who sleep exclusively with their heads turned to one side or the other, develop a flattening at the back of the skull that also affects the shape of the forehead and the position of the ears. The best way to prevent this from happening is to make sure that the babies vary their sleeping position, so that sometimes the head is turned to the right and sometimes to the left. Changing the position of a baby's cot in the room will sometimes encourage babies to change their sleeping position. A very few babies whose heads are particularly lop-sided may need specialist advice from a paediatric neurosurgeon or cranio-facial specialist if the head shape is not correcting itself by the age of six months.


Q. I have been advised by my optician that I have the beginning of a cataract in each eye. It might be years before anything needs to be done. I could be dead by then (I'm 74 now), but in the meantime is there anything that I can do, or eat, to keep this problem at bay?

A. Cataracts are not worth worrying about, unless they are interfering with your vision. When your optician says that you have "the beginning of a cataract", he is telling you what he detects when he examines your eyes. But he is not telling you anything about your vision. Cataract is the word used for anything that clouds or obscures the lens of the eye. When you begin to notice that your vision is not as good as it should be, go back to the optician to find out if the cataract is interfering with your visual capabilities. If it is, that is the time to see an ophthalmologist (an eye surgeon), to think about having it removed. It is unnecessary to have cataract surgery if your vision is fine. Although cataract operations are generally quick, easy and successful, like all operations they do occasionally go wrong, leading to a deterioration in vision or other complications.

Have your say: Readers write

A cautionary tale about cholesterol testing in chemists and supermarkets, from KT:

My mother had a test at Boots, which showed a slightly raised level. When she mentioned this to the nurse at her doctor's practice, she was told that these tests were unreliable because cholesterol varies according to when you last ate. She had another test there that gave normal results.

DT suffered from allergic rhinitis for years, until he changed his diet:

I was about 50 when this affliction started, and for many years used antihistamines, mainly Zirtek and Flixonase nasal spray, which suppressed, but did not cure.I now avoid all animal milk, cream, butter and cheese, and after three years can report complete freedom from all previous symptoms of rhinitis. I just wish I had found this solution sooner.

Send your questions and suggestions to A Question of Health, 'The Independent' 191 Marsh Wall, London E14 9RS; fax 020 - 7005 21 82; or e-mail Dr Kavalier regrets that he is unable to respond personally to questions