Ear deformities are common in infants, affecting as many as 30% of children. Deformities can be minor, such as a slight folding of the ear, to full absence of an ear. The majority of these defects (>70%) will not correct themselves with time. One of the most common ear deformities is "prominent" or protruding ears. This is when the outer ear protrudes or sticks out 2 or more centimeters from the head. Stahl ear deformities occur when excess amounts of cartilage create a point or extra ridge along the outermost portion of the ear. Constricted or "cupped" ears are also common. Microtia occurs when the outer portion of the ear does not develop properly. When detected and treated within the first 3 weeks of life, many defects can be corrected with a specialized splinting system known as the EarWellTM system. Defects which are not noted until after a few weeks of life or are more severe structural deformities can be corrected with surgery.
The inner and outer ear develop around the same time in utero and a deformity which affects the external ear can be associated with a hearing loss. If there is an abnormality with the ear canal, ear drum or hearing bones, the loss may be a “conductive hearing loss." This type of loss is often correctable with surgery. If an abnormality exists with the organ of hearing (the cochlea) or in the hearing nerve itself, the loss is permanent and known as a “sensorineural hearing loss”. Hearing aids or cochlear implants can be used to help partially restore a child's hearing.
Many defects when detected and treated within 3 weeks of life can be corrected with a specialized splinting system known as the EarWellTM system. The ear cartilage is malleable during the first few weeks of life, allowing it to be corrected easily. Defects which are not noted until after a few weeks of life or are more severe structural deformities can be corrected with surgery. In general, surgical intervention is delayed until early school age or when children can decide on their own if they want to undergo the procedure. Uncorrected ear deformities can have a negative impact on a child's quality of life from minor teasing to outright bullying. If the child's hearing has been adversely affected surgical intervention and/or hearing aids may be recommended.
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