Did you know that 20-30% of newborns have some kind of ear deformity? This includes ears that stick out (called protuberant ears), ears that are pointy (called, appropriately enough, Elfin ears), and other deformities such as the lack of curvature at the top of the ears, or something as un-technical as just “funny looking” or “squashed looking” ears.
These deformities happen for a variety of reasons. Sometimes it’s genetic. Sometimes it happens on the way through the birth canal. The problem for parents is that the pediatrician has no way to know whether the deformity will correct itself over time or if the parents will face an ear surgery to correct it, when the child is elementary-school age.
Most pediatricians have been taught to apply medical tape over deformed ears in hopes of effecting a change in the ear’s shape. This is usually done as soon as possible after birth as, during the first month or so of life, a baby has a large amount of mother’s estrogen in his system, which makes ear cartilage very “adjustable.”
This estrogen will diminish over the first six to eight weeks, which is the reason that a pediatrician will apply tape at the baby’s first visit—to take advantage of the ear cartilage’s ability to remold, thanks to the estrogen stores.
However, tape is really only effective for ears that stick out, as other deformities need something to “remold” them into a more natural shape, and tape cannot do that.
Fortunately, there’s a new method to correct infant ear deformities. Although created by a plastic surgeon, it’s not surgery. It’s a completely painless and temporary, soft plastic “ear muff” that fits over a baby’s ear. A Baylor study shows it resolved 98% of ear deformities in 250 infants over a period of 6-8 weeks.
The device is called the EarWell. Parents all over the US are learning about it from their pediatricians or from the internet, as it’s the safest and best way to remold many types of external ear problems.
Savannah plastic surgeon Dr. McGovern wants to be sure that parents in Georgia know about it, because some of their newborns will have deformed ears. For years, plastic surgeons have performed otoplasty to correct ear deformities. This invasive surgical procedure is costly to the parents, painful for the child and cannot be done until a child is at least 4 years old.
Sometimes children are teased at playgroups and school for ears that stick out and other ear deformities, with names like “dumbo” or “elf ears,” which is hurtful to a young child.This early intervention will save parents money and eliminate both potential hazing of their children and an uncomfortable procedure later.
If upon examination of your newborn’s ears you find that they are protuberant or misshapen, please make an appointment with us as soon as possible: you have a window of opportunity during the first 6 weeks of life that does not exist later on. Almost all health insurance covers the cost, so there’s no need to wait.