What Is Microtia?
Microtia is when the outside part of the ear (the pinna) is smaller than normal. It may also be misshapen. Children who have microtia (my-KRO-shee-uh) were born with it, and they usually have normal hearing. If needed, treatments can reshape the ear.
What Are the Signs & Symptoms of Microtia?
Microtia usually happens in only one ear, but can be in both. The ear looks small and may have an unusual shape. It may just look like a small bump. Sometimes the inside parts of the ears also don’t form normally. If this happens, a child might have hearing loss. Sometimes, there is no outside part of the ear at all. This is called anotia (ann-OH-shee-uh).
What Causes Microtia?
Doctors don’t know the exact cause of microtia in most cases. It happens early in a pregnancy while the ear is forming. Some types of gene mutations (changes) are associated with microtia.
Microtia happens more often in babies whose moms:
- have diabetes
- took certain medicines (including isotretinoin, brand name Accutane®) or drank alcohol during pregnancy
- had a diet low in folic acid and carbohydrates during pregnancy
Most children born with microtia don’t have other medical problems. Others might also have a genetic condition (such as Treacher Collins syndrome) or problems with the way their face, heart, kidneys, or limbs are formed.
How Is Microtia Diagnosed?
Doctors will see microtia as soon as the baby is born. Sometimes they find the condition before birth on a prenatal ultrasound. After the baby is born, the doctor will do an exam to see if there are other problems, and will do hearing tests and genetic tests.
They also might order imaging studies, such as a CT scan, and other tests as needed.
How Is Microtia Treated?
Sometimes microtia is not very noticeable and won’t need any treatment.
If treatment is needed, it may include:
- creating a silicone mold to reshape the baby’s ear in the first few months of life
- surgery to fix the way the ear looks
Plastic surgeons can do two types of procedures for microtia. They can:
- Use cartilage from the child’s ribs as a framework to form the ear. They put tissue from under the child’s scalp and/or a skin graft over the cartilage to rebuild the ear. This type of surgery is usually done when a child is 6–10 years old. The repair is done in stages, so several surgeries are needed.
- Use a plastic implant as a framework to form the ear. They put tissue from under the child’s scalp and/or a skin graft over the implant to rebuild the ear. This type of surgery can be done when a child is around 3 years old. The repair sometimes can be done in one surgery, but two might be needed.
If a child has hearing problems, a pediatric otolaryngologist (ear, nose, and throat) doctor and audiologist (hearing specialist) can help with treatment. A geneticist can help families understand how microtia can run in families.
What Else Should I Know?
If your child has microtia, treatments can help, if needed. Talk to the doctor about which are best for your child. If your child has other medical problems or hearing loss, follow the doctor’s instructions for care.
As kids get older, they might worry about how their ear looks. Talking to a counselor can help.
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