There’s a common saying that beauty is pain, but this probably isn’t a saying that you’d typically associate with babies or children.
But it seems like that might be the case in China and even Singapore nowadays, with all sorts of products, such as tapes to prevent children from breathing through their mouths and helmets to ensure that babies have a “round” head, popping up in the market.
In particular, influencers on Chinese social media sites such as Douyin and Xiao Hong Shu (小红书) have even begun promoting these items as tools to help babies attain more attractive physical features and prevent conditions such as adenoid face and plagiocephaly, commonly known as “flat head syndrome”.
These items have been trendy among younger parents who believe that ensuring their children’s good looks is part of giving them a “headstart” in life, but doctors and experts have since stepped up to warn people about the dangers of using these products on their young children.
And here’s all you need to know about these odd products and what undesirable side effects they may have instead.
Mouth Tapes to Stop Breathing Through Mouth
In Sixth Tone, a Shanghai-based magazine, it was reported that many Chinese parents have bought into the idea and effects of “mouth tapes” that tape their children’s mouths shut when they sleep.
In particular, they believe doing so will prevent their children from developing adenoid face. In this condition, individuals may have an elongated face, crooked teeth, flat nose and other facial characteristics.
And it seems like the trend has reached Singapore as well, with multiple listings of such tapes being available on various e-commerce platforms such as Shopee and Lazada.
Based on the listings, the stickers, often marketed as “anti-snoring tape” as well, usually cost consumers around $1.69 to $7 for a box of 30.
Most of these products also come from China.
Several buyers have also posted positive reviews saying that these products effectively prevent mouth breathing.
Since the emergence of these mouth tapes, doctors in China have pointed out that keeping children’s mouths shut when they sleep might cause all harm and no good.
For one, adenoid face is caused by the enlargement of adenoids, which are the glands located above the roof of the mouth and the tonsils. The enlargement of these glands can be caused by infection, allergies or genetics.
Apart from being unable to prevent adenoid face, these tapes might also prevent children from getting the oxygen they need, which may cause oxygen deprivation and brain damage in severe cases.
Doctors in Singapore echoed similar sentiments, pointing out that some children have no choice but to breathe through their mouths due to issues relating to their sinuses.
When speaking to CNA, Dr Louis Tan, a general practitioner at StarMed Specialist Centre, said that breathing through the mouth is “very important” for some children.
This is because some children may be unable to breathe through their noses due to sinus issues, causing their nasal airways to be blocked.
Apart from that, these tapes may also result in children’s skin becoming irritated over time.
Dr Wong Chin-Khoon from the Singapore Baby and Child Clinic agreed and added that the lack of oxygen might result in brain development issues, such as the children’s IQ and general health being affected.
However, these adverse side effects are not discussed in videos or content influencers post to advertise the tapes.
Baby Helmets to Correct “Flat Head Syndrome”
And that’s not all.
Baby helmets have also made their way onto the Internet; it is now widely believed in China that they can help correct plagiocephaly, commonly known as “flat head syndrome”.
Individuals with flat head syndrome have heads with asymmetrical distortion.
Influencers who advertise these helmets claim that having a baby wear it 23 hours a day for four consecutive months can allow it to develop a round skull and head instead of a flat one. The helmet can also enable the child to develop a “prominent forehead”.
Round heads are also seen as much more desirable and attractive than flat heads in places like China. This is why parents have been rushing to purchase these helmets despite no scientific proof that these helmets help correct plagiocephaly.
Additionally, unlike in countries such as the United States, where helmets are only issued with a doctor’s supervision and approval, they can be bought freely by anyone in China, making it easier for parents to acquire them.
While Dr Wong acknowledged that parents might be worried about their children having plagiocephaly, he discouraged them from purchasing these helmets on their own accord.
The reason? They should only be used in “severe” cases before skull sutures in a baby begin to close. This is usually before the baby turns nine months old.
If a baby has severe plagiocephaly or congenital muscular torticollis, they must wear custom-made helmets that fit their head and size to ensure maximum efficiency of the helmet therapy.
An ill-fitted helmet may also result in pressure sores.
Additionally, using these helmets also means that the child has to attend follow-up sessions with a doctor to ensure that the helmet therapy is effective and that no complications arise, which means that parents shouldn’t buy these helmets online.
Dr Tan also highlighted the importance of not taking medical suggestions lightly from these online sources (such as, ahem, influencers), particularly if they are not healthcare professionals.
Instead, parents concerned about conditions that their child may develop should conduct their own research and see if any legitimate healthcare providers or newspapers offer similar advice before believing in the health-related information being shared on social media.
Alternatively, they can turn to doctors such as their child’s paediatrician or family doctor to check whether these products or advertised concepts are valid.
He also warned that these sources might seem to be spreading accurate advice and information. However, these influencers may be posting false information to generate more views and followers on their social media accounts.
Of course, this also extends to other products, such as (ahem) Keto drinks that promote unrealistic results.
Legit Helmet Therapy Services in Singapore
As for where parents should go for legit helmet therapy services in Singapore, two establishments currently conduct helmet therapy: Tan Tock Seng Hospital and Orthopaedia Singapore.
The latter is a private orthotics and prosthetics centre in Singapore.
However, both establishments have indicated on their websites that they will have to assess the child’s head before determining whether or not they require helmet therapy.
These Products Do Not Need to be Registered in Singapore
Based on the Health Science Authority (HSA), products such as these mouth tapes and helmets do not need to be registered as medical devices to be sold in Singapore.
This is because they fall under the category of “low-risk” medical devices, also known as Class A.
For reference, other Class A products include bandages, wheelchairs and surgical masks.
Hence, the only action that those who import and sell these medical devices wholesale need to do is inform HSA that they are obtaining these products from a party that has a valid dealer’s licence.
However, an HSA spokesperson encouraged individuals to purchase such products from other sources, such as local retail pharmacies or clinics, as they ultimately cannot verify if these products sold online are safe and of good quality.
This is due to the “borderless nature” of the Internet nowadays.
However, if violations are found within the products sold, HSA will investigate the products and issue necessary penalties.
These penalties include working with e-commerce platforms to delete the listings on the platforms and giving the relevant sellers warnings.
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When contacted by CNA, HSA also clarified that no complaints or feedback regarding products such as mouth tapes and baby helmets had been filed with the authority over the past two years.
Similarly, the authority has also not seen any “adverse event reports” for these items.
As for other medical devices that do not fall under Class A, the products must be explicitly registered with HSA based on the Heath Products Act.
Individuals who do not do so may be jailed for up to two years, fined up to $50,000, or both.
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