By some estimates, nearly 30% of babies are born with some type of ear shape abnormality. While many of these shape problems improve in the first days of life, nearly half of these babies will have a deformity which persists. Traditionally, surgery has been the only option for correcting persistent ear deformities, usually when a child reaches 5-7 years of age.
While surgery is generally safe and effective, there are downsides, including the need for anesthesia, variable outcomes and possible recurrence of the deformity. The cost of surgery may also be a significant downside to some families, especially since many insurance providers won’t pay for surgery to correct ear shape problems. Fortunately, there is a window of opportunity to correct most common ear deformities without surgery!
Why ear molding works
If recognized in the first days of life, your baby’s ear deformity may be correctable by non-surgical molding of the ear while the cartilage is still soft and pliable. When a baby is born, the ear cartilage is soft and easily shaped. Over the first 4-6 weeks of life, the cartilage gradually becomes more firm due to normal hormone and biochemical changes that occur in your baby. Ear molding aims to reshape the ear while your child’s ear cartilage is still soft and then hold the new shape as the cartilage becomes more firm. Although there are many approaches to molding the ear, we are pleased to offer non-surgical correction of your baby’s ear deformity using the EarWell infant ear molding system.
Placing the EarWell
The EarWell device consists of a posterior shell, some soft rubber retractors to help shape the ear, a former for the bowl of the ear and a breathable, soft rubber lid that helps to hold all the components in place.
The posterior shell adheres to the skin around your baby’s ear. In most cases, a small amount of hair must be shaved to allow a smooth, hair-free place for the shell to be placed. Once the shell is in place, 1-2 retractors are placed to help give shape to the ear, giving the ear a normal form. When needed, the conchal bowl former is used to help shape the conchal bowl of the ear. Then the lid of the device snaps gently into place to complete the application.
How long is the EarWell worn?
The EarWell device needs to remain in place for 4-6 weeks to help hold the new shape while the cartilage forms. Although we would like the device to stay in place for that entire period of time, in reality, the EarWell may loosen or fall off during therapy. If your baby’s EarWell begins to come off, we will see replace the device in the office. It is important to let us know immediately if the device comes loose. We expect that most babies undergoing EarWell treatment will need the device replaced at least once and perhaps twice during treatment. This generally does not negatively affect the outcome if you remain vigilant and let us know quickly if the device has become displaced.
Is EarWell an option for your child?
The EarWell is effective in treating prominent ears, ear cupping, abnormal cartilage folding, ear helical rim problems and crytpotia (or “buried ear”). EarWell therapy is not indicated for children with badly malformed or missing ears. If you are not sure whether your baby’s ear abnormality can be treated, you may email a photo of your child’s ear to Dr. Gage prior to scheduling a visit if you would like an initial opinion regarding whether the EarWell would be a good option for you.
We are able to achieve the best results for your baby when EarWell therapy is begun in the first 7 days of life. We recognize that starting this early may not be possible in all cases. We will also consider placing the EarWell at 3-4 weeks of age. However, since the ear cartilage may have already begun to harden by this time, the end results are harder to predict. We do not recommend starting therapy after 6 weeks of age.
What are the risks?
The risks of treatment with the EarWell device are minimal. There risks include skin rashes from the adhesives used to apply the device, skin irritation from retained moisture, inadequate correction of the deformity or recurrence of the deformity after completion of therapy. There is also a risk of developing an open sore on the ear from the pressure of the device. However, this latter complication is extremely rare.
If you are interested in treating your baby’s ear deformity without surgery and would like to learn more, please give us a call. Dr. Gage would be happy to discuss with you the best options for your child.