Microtia and atresia awareness: what you need to know

Microtia and atresia awareness: what you need to know Mother of two, support group founder and advocate hopes awareness of microtia and atresia will make the public more accepting of those with these congenital birth defects of the ear. 2017 607 Microtia and atresia awareness: what you need to know

Colorado native Melissa Tumblin was inspired to learn more about a rare abnormality of the ear called microtia when her daughter Ally was born with the condition. Through advocating for Ally's unique needs, she learned a great deal and wanted to find new ways to educate and support other parents. Tumblin subsequently founded Ear Community, an online support group and caring place for families affected by microtia and atresia.

Baby with microtia and atresia
Microtia is a rare abnormality of the ear.

November 9 is National Microtia and Atresia Awareness Day, an observance created by Tumblin in the hopes of bringing public awareness to the rare congenital birth defect of the ear. 

What is microtia

Microtia is a congenital deformity in which the external ear is not completely developed, occurring in one of every 5,000 to 7,000 births. Microtia is almost always accompanied by atresia, also known as aural atresia, a condition in which the external auditory ear canal is either absent or closed.

Medical professionals aren’t sure exactly what causes this deformity, but believe it occurs during the first trimester of pregnancy when the soft tissue of the outer ear and middle ear are being formed.

There are four grades of microtia:

  • Grade 1 -- smaller version of a typical ear with a smaller ear canal
  • Grade 2 -- partially formed ear with a narrow ear canal
  • Grade 3 -- absence of the external ear with a peanut-shaped structure made primarily of cartilage and earlobe, absence of external ear canal and ear drum (known as aural atresia)
  • Grade 4 -- absence of the entire ear

Treatment options

Because this condition affects the outer ear, it is often accompanied by moderate to severe conductive hearing loss. Affected children are also susceptible to ear infections and may become self-conscious about their condition as they grow older. Fortunately, microtia and atresia can usually be repaired.

There are three common treatment options for microtia.

  • Rib graft construction, is a procedure in which a surgeon creates an ear sculpture from the patient’s own rib cartilage.
  • Medpor ear reconstruction involves a plastic ear frame that is covered with tissue grafted from the patient.
  • Those who choose not to have reconstructive surgery might opt for a prosthetic ear, which is secured with magnets or adhesive.

Treatments for atresia include:

  • Corrective surgery, in which the ear canal is widened or created.
  • Surgery to implant a bone-conducting hearing aid or bone-anchored hearing device, for those who do not wish to have corrective surgery.

One of the biggest risks for surgery is damage to the facial nerve, although modern surgical techniques have substantially lowered this risk. Other complications can include stenosis, drainage from the ear and infection. Sensorineural hearing loss occurs in approximately 5% of patients. Medical professionals recommend parents wait until children are 5-7 years old to ensure compliance with postoperative care instructions.

Summary

Newborn hearing screenings can help detect hearing loss in infants even before parents bring their babies home from the hospital. When abnormalities such as microtia and atresia are apparent at birth, or when other hearing problems are detected during the screenings, medical professionals can help you decide which treatment options are best and direct you to the resources needed to make the right decisions.

Children with hearing loss caused by ear deformities or other causes are best served through a team approach led by their pediatrician. Specialized pediatric audiologists have the needed equipment and education to evaluate hearing loss in babies and children. They will work with your pediatrician and medical specialists to implement the best treatment options so your little one has every social, educational and developmental advantage.

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