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When his son was born with a Stahl’s bar, a common ear deformity that is difficult to correct surgically, David Gault, a Consultant Plastic Surgeon at The Portland Hospital, London, developed EarBuddies - Ear Splints that mold baby ear cartilage avoiding the need for future Otoplasty.
In this Interview, Mr Gault explains how EarBuddies work, and how they help correct infant ear deformity.
Ear deformities can be noticed as early as birth. Common forms include lop ear, cup ear, rim kinks, folded-over helical rim, Stahl’s bar and ear tags. About 4% of babies are born with ear deformity, and the majority will have the condition bat ear, which is when the ears protrude or stick out.
Having an ear deformity does not usually affect the hearing or development of a child. This being said, in later life a very floppy or a protruding ear can cause a problem for a child who needs to wear a behind-the-ear hearing aid, and an asymmetric ear shape can cause a problem in a child who needs to wear spectacles. Additionally, a misshapen auditory meatus (ear hole) can prevent a child or adult from wearing an earpiece or headphone.
The majority of children who have deformities of the external ear are born with their condition. However, one third of all ears that protrude are developed at around 3 months of age and can be worsened by the wearing of hooded clothing or collars, which place external pressure on the ear by pushing it forward. If a baby’s ear is easily pushed forward, their ears are at risk of being permanently prominent and should be splinted to prevent a permanent bat ear deformity from developing.
Treatment for protruding ears is mostly done for aesthetic reasons. In some Eastern societies protruding ears are associated with good luck but in Western cultures children with protruding ears are often teased and this can begin as early as nursery school.
EarBuddies are splints that are used to reshape the cartilage of the outer ear. They help to correct ear deformities in infants by moulding the baby’s soft ear cartilage into shape so that it “sets” into the correct shape as the child develops and their cartilage hardens.
Early splinting to influence the shape or protrusion of a child’s ear is now an established technique and popular with parents. The ideal time to consider splinting a child’s ear deformity with EarBuddies is as soon as the deformity is noticed. For most splintable ear deformities, this is at birth and at The Portland Hospital most babies are lucky enough to be seen by Consultant Paediatricians familiar with the technique.
When used in newborn babies, EarBuddies are worn for 2-4 weeks. The earlier splintage is started the easier it is. This is because the baby moves less, is less dextrous and does not interfere with the splints.
One of the main advantages of EarBuddies is that they do not require a general anaesthetic to be applied and can be used from birth when the child’s cartilage is soft and can be easily manipulated.
For older children, surgery known as pinnaplasty or otoplasty is the usual form of treatment for prominent or misshapen ears. This procedure is usually performed under general anaesthetic and is common for children under the age of 11. It should not be undertaken until the age of 5 years because during this time the cartilage is too soft.
For more information about treating a child’s ear deformity at The Portland Hospital or to book an appointment with Mr David Gault FRCS, please telephone 0203 393 1103 or email firstname.lastname@example.org
If you would like to fit EarBuddies at home, please see our online Fitting Guide.