Approximately 15-20% of newborn children are born with external ear deformities, including elfin or “Spock” ears, prominent ears, folded-over ears, “hidden ears,” and various combinations of these. Most ear problems do not self-correct and some may worsen with age. Some ear deformities bring along functional problems, and, unfortunately, peer ridicule and bullying. Children may start facing harassment from peers at age 5-6 years; studies show this can negatively impact their physical and emotional development. Corrective ear-shaping surgery, called “otoplasty,” is usually carried out to improve ear problems in children out of the newborn period.
If caught in the newborn period, many ear problems can be treated without surgery; newborn babies have a large amount of maternal estrogen circulating in their system, which makes the ear cartilage soft and pliable. Newborn ear splinting or molding is a painless, non-invasive, and non-surgical way of correcting most ear deformities. The concept of ear splinting has been around for decades, with previous techniques employing rolled gauze, latex, and various adhesives. The treatment is not painful (it feels like putting on a band-aid), does not require sedation, has minimal risks, and carries a greater than 90% success rate for correction. The physicians at Artisan Plastic Surgery employ several modalities for treatment, including EarWell and EarBuddies devices.
With the ear deformity corrected by splinting, the affected child avoids elective surgery and anesthesia. From a financial standpoint, newborn ear splinting also wins: most insurance companies cover newborn ear molding, but do not usually cover otoplasty surgery, which is viewed as a cosmetic procedure.