A perfect pair of ears may not turn heads like a beautiful face, but ear differences such as prominent ears or lop ears can be distracting features. In fact, studies have shown that children with ear deformities fare poorer psychosocially. Children may run the risk of being victims of bullying and teasing, and have a lower self-esteem. With the advent of ear molding, babies can now have their ears corrected non-surgically with more than 90% effectiveness, provided it is done within the first few weeks of birth. If babies miss this window of ear molding, the deformity can be surgically corrected from 5 years of age.
This effective non-surgical method can correct misshapen ears with an effectiveness of more than 90%. A splint (such as the EarwellTM Infant Ear Correction System) is worn over the baby’s ears for a few weeks. “The earlier the baby starts [ear] molding, the more effective the treatment,” explains Plastic Surgeon Dr Chia Hui Ling, “and the baby will also require a shorter duration of treatment.” Ear molding should be done within the first 6 weeks of life – the effectiveness plummets after this age as the cartilage becomes less flexible.
If the window of molding is missed, the next option is surgery to correct the deformation – an otoplasty. Oto- means ear and -plasty means to correct the form. In this surgery, plastic surgeons use a range of techniques to shape the ear cartilage and remodel the ear into a more normal form. An example of otoplasty is pin-back surgery for prominent ears, a notorious target of teasing (“Dumbo ears”, “bat ears”).
This class of surgery is indicated for more severe forms of ear anomalies, where the ear is not only misshapen but is also missing some elements such as skin or cartilage. For instance, a child may be born with a small rudimentary ear lobe and the rest of the ear is not formed, a condition known as microtia. “Ear reconstruction surgeries are more complex, often requiring more than one stage and involves the harvesting of supplementary cartilage and skin from other areas of the body,” says Dr Tan Ying Chien, Consultant Plastic Surgeon from SW1 Plastic Surgery Clinic. Dr Tan specialises in microtia reconstruction, a complex surgery which requires him to carve a new set of ear cartilage for the child, out of his/her rib cartilage.
Read more: Microtia (Congenitally absent ears)