Cleft Lip

Cleft lip is an orofacial congenital defect that is a result of lip tissue not being able to join completely. This can leave anywhere from a small slit, to a more serious gap that extends into the nose. At about 4,400 cases per year, the presence of a cleft lip is almost twice as likely to occur as is a cleft palate alone.

Depending on the severity of the cleft lip, symptoms and problems can include the following:

  • Trouble breathing
  • Trouble hearing
  • Trouble speaking
  • Trouble feeding
  • Ear infections
  • Dental development
  • Language development

In order to treat and avoid many of these symptoms, surgery is often recommended early in a child’s life. Additional treatments such as orthodontic and speech therapy are also often needed throughout the child’s life and into adulthood.

Due to the visible characteristics of cleft lips, a diagnosis often happens prior to birth via an ultrasound. Though often blamed on genetics, certain preventable factors also contribute to the development of cleft lips. For example, the CDC reports that smoking, diabetes, and the use of certain medicines during pregnancy can all increase the likelihood of a child developing a congenital birth defect.

Of these preventable factors, the most debated is the usage of certain medicines, specifically during the first trimester. Though many studies are inconclusive or require further testing, one common drug associated with cleft lips is Zofran, also known as Ondansetron. Because causal links have been found between Ondansetron and cleft palates, and because children who develop cleft palates also often develop cleft lips, many suggest that this is enough evidence to suggest that there is also a causal relationship between the drug and cleft lips. More information on these links can be found here. The drug, originally approved only for people suffering from nausea and vomiting during chemotherapy and after certain surgeries, has often been prescribed “off-label” to pregnant women suffering from similar symptoms.