Latino folk illnesses: Exploring ‘Caida de la Mollera’

saludifyBy Hope Gillette, Saludify

Caida de la mollera is the most challenging and potentially fatal of probably all Latino folk illnesses, according to Rice University.

Children with this condition have what Western medicine refers to as a sunken fontanelle, or a depression in the skull where the bones have not yet grown together and hardened.

The National Library of Medicine indicates the caida de la mollera is a medical emergency and is usually a sign the infant is severely dehydrated or malnourished.

Latino folk illness: Caida de la mollera

Caida de la mollera is often accompanied by a significant amount of maternal guilt as Latinos see this folk illnessas the result of neglect.

Caida de la mollera is considered to be mechanical in nature, meaning there is a direct cause-and-effect relationship between an specific activity and why the fontanelle collapses inward. This depression in the skull is attributed to pressure put on the child’s brain, and is what Latinos traditionally believe causes the other symptoms which accompany caida de la mollera.

The most common cause is thought to be pulling a nipple from the baby’s mouth while it is sucking, as this is thought to cause an imbalance of pressure causing the fontanelle to sink.

Other assumed causes include:

  • Tossing the infant playfully up in the air.
  • Falling out of a crib.
  • The infant receives a sudden bump or jolt.

In Western medicine, a sunken fontanelle indicates to doctors that there is not enough fluid in an infant’s body. This dehydration can be the result of malnutrition, but it may also indicate other serious illnesses such as sepsis, dysentery, or meningitis.

Regardless of the cause, a sunken fontanelle is considered a medical emergency, and waiting to receive folk treatment can often be dangerous for the baby.

Symptoms of caida de la mollera

Traditional or alternative medicine aside, the symptoms of a sunken fontanelle, or caida de la mollera, are universal.

Parents should be on the lookout for a number of symptoms, including:

  • Relentless crying
  • Sunken fontanelles
  • Sunken eyes
  • Vomiting
  • Inability to nurse
  • Diarrhea
  • Fever
  • Irritability
  • Colic
  • Lack of tears

Because these symptoms can accompany a number of other, harmless childhood illnesses, the National Library of Medicine suggests parents ask themselves the following questions to determine if caida de la mollera is really present:

  • Is there a depression in the top of the skull?
  • Has the baby been ill, especially with vomiting, diarrhea, or excessive sweating?
  • Is the skin turgor poor? (meaning if you pull it up slightly it will come right back to normal or change shape)
  • Is the baby thirsty?
  • Is the baby alert?
  • Are the baby’s eyes dry?
  • Is the baby’s mouth dry?

While any depressed fontanelle warrants an immediate doctor’s visit, answering “yes” to any of the above questions indicates the situation is serious and medical treatment should not be delayed.

Latino folk treatment for caida de la mollera

As caida de la mollera is thought to be mechanical in nature, most of the traditional treatments for this condition involve attempting to push the fontanelle back into place.

The most common manner of healing for a folk healer, according to Washington University, involves wetting the sunken fontanelle with warm soap and water while the healer gently places a  finger inside the baby’s mouth. Gradual pressure is then applied to the  hard palate (roof of the mouth) while the hair on the sunken fontanelle is gently pulled outward.

Other folk healing methods may include:

  • The healer places warm water in his or her mouth and then attempts to use mouth suction over the fontanelle to draw it back into place.
  • Holding the child upside down over a pan of water while a poultice, usually made with fresh soap shavings or raw egg, is applied to the fontanelle.
  • Adding a raw egg to the fontanelle during any remedy process under the thought process that as the egg dries it will draw the fontanelle back into place.

Western medicine treatment for caida de la mollera

Western medicine takes a different approach to a sunken fontanelle.

According to Healthline, this condition is usually the result of dehydration, and can occur if an infant develops diarrhea or vomiting and then does not have proper fluid replacement.

Treatment may include hospitalization for intravenous fluid replacement, or parents may be advised to administer oral electrolyte solutions at home if the infant is still willing to nurse and is not too severely affected.

If another condition is present causing the dehydration, treatment may include administration of medications until the underlying cause has been dealt with.

No manual manipulation is performed.

How can parents prevent caida de la mollera?

Prevention of the Latino folk illness caida de la mollera means understanding how to prevent dehydration in a young child.

If there is a sunken fontanelle due to dehydration, this means the child is younger than 19 months, the point when both fontanelles in the skull should have hardened over.

For children under 19 months of age, take the following precautions to prevent dehydration:

  • Keep the child cool and out of the sun on hot days.
  • Allow the child as much formula or breast milk as desired to keep fluid intake up.
  • Do not dilute milk or formula with water; children under 6 months of age should not have large amounts of water.
  • Do not give juice to infants under 6 months of age.
  • If you give juice to a child over 6 months of age, dilute it with water to increase fluid intake.
  • Do not give soda to any child under 19 months of age.
  • For children over 6 months of age, fluids can be supplemented with an electrolyte source such as Pedialyte.
  • Be aware that vomiting and diarrhea can quickly cause dehydration; if your child is not taking in liquids and is sick, visit your doctor immediately.

This article was first published in Saludify.

Hope Gillette is an award winning author and novelist. She has been active in the veterinary industry for over 10 years, and her experience extends from exotic animal care to equine sports massage.

[Photo by sean dreilinger]

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