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The medical term for the condition commonly known as “Funnel chest” or ‘Sunken chest” is pectus excavatum. It’s the most common of all chest deformities. It’s a treatable condition that can range from a serve deformity to a somewhat concave chest wall appearance.

Pectus excavatum is caused by atypical growth of chest cartilage and connecting tissues. Excessive growth of the cartilage connecting the ribs to the sternum results in a deeper dip in the chest. This depression can be equal or asymmetrical on either side of the chest. 

The congenital condition is often diagnosed as the child grows and enters toddlerhood. The chest hollow becomes more pronounced, although the malformation is present from birth.

Treatment Options for Pectus Excavatum

Conventionally, the treatment for pectus excavatum was only performed surgically. Given the delicate nature of pediatric cases and the risks attached to adolescent surgery, procedures treating pectus excavatum were usually recommended in only the most extreme cases.

Many methods of correcting the defect have emerged and have been perfected over the years. The most routinely used methods are the Ravitch Procedure and the Nuss Procedure, which is less invasive than the former.

Risks Associated With Surgical Treatment of Pectus Excavatum

While surgical treatment approaches for pectus excavatum have come a long way, they carry certain risks parents need to be aware of. Both of these options carry risks, as do all surgical procedures.

An added drawback is that the patient cannot undergo MRI because of the steel bar placed in their chest. In case of emergencies, doing CPR on a patient who has undergone either of these surgeries might not be a feasible option. These added risks place patients, often in their adolescence, in greater danger than their peers. 

Moreover, bar displacement, pleural effusion, and infection are after-surgery complications associated with these procedures.

Vacuum Bell Therapy

Pectus excavatum is often diagnosed in young children and approximately affects 1 out of 300 children. The good news is that the elasticity of a young child’s breast bone lends itself well to early correction. This method works on reshaping the ribcage, breastbone, and muscles to reduce their inclination to pull the ribcage in a concave shape.

Vacuum bell therapy is a minimally invasive, non-surgical treatment option for pectus excavatum. The technique is comparatively recent, developed in 2005 by Eckart Klob in Germany. This therapy works on the simple principle of suction.

How It Works

A small instrument made of flexible material is placed on the patient’s chest. Suction is created to coax the chest depression into a better formation. A hand pump is attached to the instrument and used to create and control suction.

Over time, the vacuum bell re-trains the sternum and ribs to stay in the correct position. The whole process usually takes a year, though improvement can be noticed after 3-4 months.

The success rate of rectifying the condition is high, given that the diagnosis is made early enough. Other factors that play into the success of vacuum bell therapy are compliance with the doctor’s directions and wearing the device for the prescribed period daily.

Who Is a Candidate for Vacuum Bell Therapy

Children with pectus excavatum are often diagnosed with other musculoskeletal issues. Proper screening and testing are required to see if the child can be helped by vacuum bell therapy.

Vacuum bell therapy is a great treatment option for young children with pectus excavatum. Early diagnosis is vital because children under the age of 12 are most suitable to receive treatment. Their chest walls are malleable enough to be corrected by applying suction.

Another factor is the bend of your child’s chest. If the dip is less than 1 inch, the child is considered a good candidate. Else a more invasive procedure would be the only corrective option.

After the doctor deems a patient a suitable candidate for vacuum bell therapy, a custom-tailored device is fitted for the child’s specific chest shape.

Care and Duration of Wear

Once your child is fitted for the device, your doctor will provide you with wear duration and at-home care details. For most children, the duration of wear and suction is slowly build-up to eliminate any discomfort. The therapy is painless, although pressure is felt that can make some children resistant to wearing the device.

Typically, The device is worn for about an hour for the first week, increased to 2 hours by the second week.

By the second month, this duration is increased up to 3 hours of wear time. After the third or fourth month, the initial re-shaping occurs, and the patient enters the maintenance phase. Four hours of wear time is typical at this stage for best results.

Your child can participate in most activities while wearing the device. Vigorous and water sports, however, are discouraged. Some children might be more conscious of wearing the device at school, although it is discreet and can’t be noticed under clothing.

Children can wear the device at home or even during sleep to fulfil the daily wear time requirements.

Help Your Child Avoid Surgery for Correcting Pectus Excavatum

Pectus excavatum can have physical and psychological implications for your child. We at Align Clinic understand that getting a pectus excavatum can seem quite daunting as a parent. 

Time is of the essence as an early diagnosis can start your child on their journey towards better health. Surgery is no longer the only treatment option for your child.
Start the healing process today if you suspect your child is suffering from pectus excavatum. Book an appointment today for your child to be checked out by our qualified teams.