Early Ear Correction using EarBuddies™

The cartilage of the newborn ear is extremely soft and pliable, possibly due to the influence of mother's oestrogen.  These characteristics mean that many baby ear deformities can be fixed at birth without surgery by simple remoulding with EarBuddies™ splints. 

As a general guide, if you can temporarily correct a misshapen ear with your fingers, then EarBuddies™ should be able to give a permanent correction. The splints can correct most baby ear problems caused by abnormal or missing folds (Stick-Out Ear, Stahl's Bar, Cup Ear, Cryptotia, Lop Ear, Rim Kink, Stick-Out lobe and a Folded-over Helical Rim). However, the splints cannot replace missing tissue or guarantee success in all cases.

About two thirds (61%) of prominent ears are noticeable soon after birth. The remaining third become obvious around three months of age, as baby’s head shape changes and as the cartilage framework of the ear hardens during early life. An ear which is easily pushed forward when a baby sleeps, feeds or turns its head is likely to become more prominent until, at least, the age of six months.

Parents are often falsely reassured by Health Professionals that their child’s ears will look more normal with age, but this is rarely the case, and splintage should be considered for any baby ear which still looks odd 48 hours after birth.

In some Eastern cultures, ears which stick out are thought to 'catch good luck.'

Visit the EarBuddies™ website for more details and Results achieved by splinting. 

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Ideally splintage should be started in the first few days of life. At this stage the cartilage is easily remoulded, the sweat and sebaceous glands are poorly developed so that the tapes which hold the splint in place stick well, and the child moves its head little, and does not reach up to the ears to dislodge or pick at the splints.

Earbuddies™ splints re-mould the cartilage folds in a baby's ears to restore the natural curves and hold the ear close to the side of the head. When the framework hardens in the controlled shape, there is a permanent, surgery-free correction. Simply taping the ear back without the splint in situ does not effect a permanent improvement, and distortion of the rim of the ear can develop later in life. 

In the newborn, splintage for one to two weeks is sometimes all that is necessary. Perseverance is required once the “golden” period shortly after birth is missed. Early splintage is best, but even starting as late as 18 months may not be too late, especially if baby is still breastfed, as this keeps the ear cartilage softer for longer. When EarBuddies™ were first introduced, we said that splintage was effective in babies of up to 6 months, but that limit has been steadily increasing. We have had parents report success with splintage starting at 4 years old and independent research into splintage in Japan shows that it can be effective in much older children and even in teenagers. However, the level of success achievable is heavily dependent upon perseverance and we would only recommend that you begin using EarBuddies™ after your baby is 18 months if you are prepared to be very persistent.

Early splintage may improve ear shape without the need for later surgery or anaesthetic. Splintage has the additional advantage of preventing pre-surgery teasing. It is not yet a widespread practice, despite a number of reports which show neonatal splintage of misshapen ears to be of benefit, cheap and safe. Nevertheless, it is clear that the future of treatment of such deformities lies in this direction. EarBuddies™ are becoming more and more widely used, both by parents at home, and by Professional Fitters. EarBuddies™ are fitted in increasing numbers of Hospitals around the world, including the Mayo Clinic, The Boston Children's Hospital, and the Portland Hospital, London.

To avoid teasing and otoplasty in later years, splintage using EarBuddies™ is now recognised as the treatment of choice for stick-out or deformed ears.

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EarBuddies™ are best used at birth, or as soon as the ears start to stick out. A third of prominent ears don’t begin to stick out until about three months of age but by then, splintage takes longer. Unsplinted, about one in twenty people will have prominent ears by the age of 5.

Surgery to correct stick-out or bat ears is currently the most common paediatric plastic surgery undertaken in the UK. Splinting the stick-out or deformed ears of a baby at birth can save the need for surgery at a later date. The greater the delay, the more difficult it is likely to be, and the more persistence is needed if it is to be effective. As the use of splintage becomes widespread, it is anticipated that pinnaplasty (otoplasty) surgery in the UK, North America and Australia would become unusual by 2030. Click here to learn what Experts say about EarBuddies™.

“It is vital that neonatal paediatricians, obstetricians, general practitioners, and midwives are educated about early detection [of ear deformity] and how to initiate treatment themselves.”

“If successful, an effective splinting programme could consign the surgical correction of all but the most severe ear deformities to the past.”

Post-partum splinting of ear deformities Lindford AJ, Hettiaratchy S, Schonauer  F. British Medical Journal 17 Feb 2007, Volume 334

 

Relevant Publications

Books:

Gault DT and Rothera M
Management of Congenital Deformities of the External and Middle Ear - a chapter for Scott Brown's Otorhinolaryngology, Head and Neck Surgery, 7th Edition Arnold

Academic Papers:

Tan ST and Gault DT. (1994)
When Do Ears Become Prominent?
British Journal of Plastic Surgery 47: 573 - 574.

Tan ST, Shibu MM and Gault DT. (1994)
A Splint for Correction of Congenital Ear Deformities
British Journal of Plastic Surgery 47 : 575 - 578.

Gault DT. (1995)
Invited commentary on: Congenital anomalies of the auricle: correction through external splints
European Journal of Plastic Surgery 18: 291 - 292.

Gault DT. (1995)
Can I Bend Your Ear?
You and Your Baby Magazine page 72.

Laing H and Gault DT. (1995)
Bat Ears - A European Perspective
Christmas Edition of the British Medical Journal 311: 1715.

Gault DT. (1998)
Ear Splintage Face 5: 211-212.

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