Microtia is a congenital ear deformity that is sometimes called microtia of the ear. Even though microtia is not a common birth defect, it is not so unusual as to be considered "rare". Microtia may be found in about 1 in 8,000 children, so many ENT doctors have experience with this birth defect. Let's take a closer look at the basic facts about microtia.
The word microtia is derived from Latin words that literally mean "little ear", and this describes the condition of microtia very directly. It is an ear deformity in which the external ear has not formed properly, or perhaps not at all, so it appears to be a tiny ear. The cause of this birth defect is not known, but it is known that there is nothing that parents did to cause it or could have done to prevent it. So if you have a child with microtia, do not be concerned about your role in this congenital ear deformity.
Microtia of the ear is often accompanied by hearing loss, as the opening to the ear canal is not as open as in a normally developed external ear. The ear canal itself may also be slightly misshapen, adding to the hearing loss. All children are giving a hearing test at birth, which is usually very simple and comes back normal. For children with microtia, this hearing test is important as it documents the amount of hearing loss that the children have right after birth. Parents should pay attention to these numbers and keep track of them as the child grows. Additional hearing tests will be able to be compared to this initial test to see if any additional hearing loss occurs over time. As a child grows, the shape of their ear and ear canal may change over time, and the hearing loss can change as well. Having the numbers from the initial hearing test will be useful to track any changes in their hearing.
Since microtia often occurs in only one ear, a child who has microtia can have perfect hearing in their other ear. Nonetheless, learning language may be a little more difficult for this child, so parents of children with microtia should spend some extra time working on their children's language skills. Language is composed of some very subtle sound distinctions, so a child with some hearing loss may need to focus more than other children do in order to learn language. Since language brings us together far more than physical appearance, there is no reason for a simple ear deformity to reduce a child's ability to play with other children and communicate just as well as any child does.
As a child with microtia matures, it may be possible to have ear reshaping surgery. While not necessary, this can make the ear deformity less noticeable, and it may also reduce the child's hearing loss. Parents of children with microtia will of course be visiting an ear, nose, and throat doctor on a regular basis to track the child's hearing loss, so this doctor can keep them informed on the possibility of ear reshaping surgery. Some cases will be handled more easily than others, so consult with an ENT doctor before making a decision.