Ear microtia factsheet

Introduction

Microtia is when an ear has grown differently and can include differences like:

  • being smaller than the usual size
  • being folded over
  • a very narrow ear canal
  • the ear or ear canal is missing completely.

Differences in microtia will affect the:

  • outer ear – the part of the ear you can see
  • ear canal – the inner passage that connects the outer ear to the eardrum
  • middle ear – the eardrum and three small bones that carry sound waves.

Microtia can happen in one or both ears.

The cause of microtia is not known. In some cases, it can be passed down from a parent with a genetic syndrome, a condition caused by differences in their DNA.

 Signs and symptoms

The main signs of microtia are a difference in the shape or structure of the outer ear.

It might: 

  • look slightly different to the other ear
  • look smaller than the other ear
  • have the skin and cartilage of the ear but no canal
  • be missing completely. 

The ear canal may also be very narrow or missing completely, and the middle ear bones may have differences ranging from mild to severe.

Some children with microtia may also have other visible differences in the structure of their ears, nose, and throat, such as a cleft palate. In most cases, the ear is the only body part not developed properly.

Diagnosis

Microtia is usually diagnosed at birth. Your child’s treatment team will:

  • do a physical check of the ear
  • do the statewide infant screening - hearing (SWISH) test
  • check the ear canal and middle ear with further tests and scans.

Some children have microtia caused by a genetic condition, including:

  • Goldenhaar Syndrome – a condition that causes abnormal development of the eyes, ears, and spine
  • Treacher Collins syndrome - a condition that causes abnormal development of the head and face.

Treatment

Microtia may not need treatment for mild differences in the ear. 

More severe cases may require plastic surgery when the child is older. Surgery is rarely done on the ear canal or middle ear because it is difficult to reach. 

Children with microtia may experience frequent ear infections or fluid build-up, known as glue ear, and may need surgery to insert tubes called grommets to help drainage.

 Management

Microtia and hearing loss

Children with microtia usually have hearing loss in one or both ears. These children need regular hearing checks to make sure their language and communication development is not affected. 

Parents and carers also need to check their children regularly for ear infections and glue ear to ensure their child's hearing is not further affected.

Appearance of the ear

Microtia can change the appearance of the ear, so It's helpful for parents and caregivers to talk to their doctor about how to respond when others ask about it. 

Boosting your child's confidence is very important. Talk openly with your child about the differences in their ears and how to feel good about themselves. Focus on what's great about them that has nothing to do with their body. 

When your child is older, they may want to have surgery to change the appearance of their ear. You can discuss this with your child’s doctor when they are 8-10 years old.

Resources and more information

Hearing Services Program

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Hearing Services Program

Phone1800 500 726
Biography
Operated by the Australian Government Department of Health and Aged Care, the Hearing Services Program provides subsidised high-quality hearing services and devices to eligible Australians with hearing loss.
Related Links
Last updated Monday 17th June 2024

Disclaimer

This factsheet is provided for general information only. It does not constitute health advice and should not be used to diagnose or treat any health condition.

Please consult with your doctor or other health professional to make sure this information is right for you and/or your child.

The Sydney Children’s Hospitals Network does not accept responsibility for inaccuracies or omissions, the interpretation of the information, or for success or appropriateness of any treatment described in the factsheet.


© Sydney Children’s Hospitals Network 2024