Misfolding or a deformity of the ear is a common finding in newborn children; studies show that approximately one third of all newborns have some sort of external ear deformity, ranging from very mild kinks of pinched areas in the outer rim of the ear to severely constricted and misfolded ears that look significantly misshapen. Our facial plastic surgeon Dr. Inessa Fishman prefers to treat babies with ear concerns with non-surgical newborn ear correction (also called the Earwell treatment), which is a painless and non-invasive ear reshaping treatment. We recently asked Dr. Fishman to discuss some of the common parent concerns surrounding the newborn ear correction treatment; read on to learn more!
“As an Ear, Nose, and Throat (ENT) Doctor and Facial Plastic Surgeon, I do both surgical and non-surgical ear treatments for reshaping, reconstruction, and repair,” says Dr. Fishman, “and working with newborns and their parents to address ear issues can be a very gratifying process.” Because babies are born with a high level of mom’s estrogen circulating in their system, their ear cartilage is soft and very amenable to molding or shaping; this window of treatment opportunity is short–about 6-8 weeks of life–and ear reshaping treatment is best done as soon as possible after birth, for best results. Some of the most common worries we hear from our patients’ parents include:
How does newborn ear correction work?
The newborn ear correction treatment works by reshaping a misfolded ear into a desired position, and holding this desired position for a few weeks, while the soft baby ear cartilage stiffens. Dr. Fishman commonly uses the EarWell ear mold or custom splints, usually treating patients for 4-8 weeks to achieve best results. These splinting or shaping treatments require minimal home maintenance (they mostly need to be kept dry and occasionally reinforced with a small piece of tape).
Does newborn ear correction treatment hurt?
No, the EarWell treatment (or nonsurgical reshaping of the baby’s ear) is absolutely not painful. Dr. Fishman commonly describes the treatment being similar to placing and taking off a Band-aid. We use gentle surgical tape and special skin glue to attach the ear reshaping molds, and also use lots of glue or adhesive remover to ensure the splints glide off the baby’s skin with essentially no force or pulling. The benefits of nonsurgical newborn ear correction include its high success treatment rate, no pain, and no need for any sedation.
How soon should we start with ear correction for my baby?
If not corrected during the first few months of life, some children may require corrective ear surgery later in life. Because treatment is time-sensitive, Dr. Fishman prefers to see babies with a question of misfolded or misshapen ears as soon as she can, preferably in the first 1-2 weeks of life. The circulating maternal estrogen in the baby’s system affects the softness of the ear cartilage, and we have a roughly 6-8 week of window before this estrogen decreases and the window for treatment closes.
Why does the hair around the ear need to be shaved? Will it grow back?
Dr. Fishman needs to attach the ear-shaping splint to the skin around the ear, and have it stay for at least 10-12 days at a time. The splint glue or adhesive works best on clean, hairless skin; to make the splinting device more effective and last longer, we do shave a small strip of hair around the to-be-treated ear. Don’t worry parents, your baby’s hair is quick to grow back! In fact, we sometimes need to trim a bit more hair 2-3 weeks after starting therapy, if a baby needs a bit longer ear splinting treatment.
Does EarWell nonsurgical ear correction affect hearing?
No, the baby hears normally during the entire treatment as the ear canal is left completely open while the splint is in place. Your baby can hear your voice and all surrounding sounds without any obstruction. Normal sound perception is very important to the baby’s brain development, and we work hard to ensure the newborn ear correction treatment process does not impact hearing in any way.
Will the ear return to its original shape after newborn ear correction treatment?
While this is possible, it is very unlikely. The vast majority of treatment results are permanent, and there’s a very high satisfaction rate among parents. Dr. Fishman quotes a 93% success rate as shown in the medical literature.
Newborn ear correction is a great and very satisfying part of our practice at Aviva Plastic Surgery. Dr. Fishman enjoys working with babies and little kids for non-surgical and surgical ear shaping, and has published about newborn ear correction on our website and elsewhere. Check out our before and after treatment photos on our website, and learn more about newborn ear correction on the EarWell and EarBuddies sites.