Pediatric Ear Procedures Overview
Your child’s ears are advanced organs that allow them to hear the world and help define their appearance. If your child’s ears have a birth defect or an injury that affects their shape, it can impair their ability to hear and harm their self-image. But your child doesn’t have to suffer with the difficulties that accompany misshapen ears. MedStar Plastic & Reconstructive Surgery can help reshape and reconstruct your child’s ears.
Examples of ear conditions we treat include:
- Prominent ear, also known as protruding ear, is when one or both ears stick out more than 2 centimeters from the sides of the head.
- Constricted ear includes lop ear and cupped ear and is when the rim of the ear appears to be tightened, folded down or very small.
- Shell ear is when the curve in the outer rim, as well as the natural folds and creases of the ear, are missing.
- Large, stretched or torn earlobes can happen as a result of ear tearing, trauma, or piercing.
- Lobes with large creases or wrinkles are typically the result of a genetically passed trait.
- Microtia is a birth defect in which the ear is underdeveloped, leaving a small, malformed or absent external ear.
These procedures are usually done on children between the ages of 6 and 14. Ears are almost fully grown by age 4, and the earlier ear surgery is completed, the less time a child may have to experience hearing difficulties or teasing from peers. However, the cartilage needs to be strong enough to hold the sutures used to create their new shape.
Because infants are not candidates for ear surgery, a nonsurgical option for treating ear anomalies is also available called ear molding. This technique painlessly corrects many infant ear deformities, regardless of type or severity. It’s designed to properly and permanently reshape the ear during the narrow time window when circulating maternal estrogens remain at high levels in your child. Ideally, ear molding is initiated within the first three weeks of life. However, studies have shown that molding may also be effective if started as late as 4-6 weeks of age. This treatment may prevent the need for future surgery in most cases, or help prevent more complicated surgery once your child is old enough.
Planning and Recovery
What to Expect
At MedStar Health, our ear specialists offer the most advanced treatment options for children who suffer from birth defects and injury-related ear problems. We offer an array of treatment options including:
- Earlobe repair: If the earlobe is torn, ripped, stretched-out, or drooping, this simple outpatient procedure can trim the affected skin.
- Ear-shaping surgery (otoplasty): Otoplasty is a common procedure that repositions the ears for a more normal appearance. Ears can be repositioned by making an incision behind the ear and then removing or folding the ear cartilage.
- Microtia surgery: If your child is affected by microtia, he or she is a candidate for ear reconstruction. This is typically performed at 6-7 years of age and can be performed using rib cartilage or an implant placed under the skin and fascia (ear muscle).
The surgeon will examine your child’s ears and ask questions to determine if they’re a candidate for an ear procedure. It’s helpful if your child shows a willingness to cooperate so they can better follow care directions post-surgery. If surgery is recommended, you’ll discuss risks and potential complications of surgery and what will happen during surgery. You’ll receive directions on what you and your child should do prior to surgery.
Recovery from Ear Surgery
Patients are usually up and around within a few hours of surgery and are able to go home the same day. Your child’s head will be wrapped in a bulky bandage immediately following surgery to promote the best molding and healing. The ears may throb or ache a little for a few days, but medication can help relieve pain. Within one week, the bulky bandages will be replaced by a lighter head dressing similar to a headband. Be sure your child follows the surgeon’s directions for wearing this dressing, especially at night. Sutures usually will dissolve in about two weeks.
Any activity in which the ear might be bent should be avoided for a month or so. Children can go back to school in approximately seven days if they are careful about playground activity. You may want to ask your child’s teacher to keep an eye on your child for a few weeks.
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Frequently Asked Questions
The ear procedure may be covered by insurance if it is deemed medically necessary for your child. Please contact your insurance company to determine your coverage.
If you’re exploring options for insurance coverage, you may need to request a referral from your primary care doctor, depending on your health insurance plan. Check with your carrier to see if medical coverage is an option for you and, if so, whether a referral is required.
Ear surgery, as with all surgeries, carries certain risks including: