Prosthetic ears are an option to correct Microtia. This visible deformity of the external ear (pinna) is a congenital condition that occurs in 1,1% of live births. The deformity can be mild or the pinna can be absent (anotia). Microtia can occur in one or both ears and may be accompanied by hearing loss due to deformities of the ear canal, middle and inner ear. When an ear canal is absent it is called atresia.
In a case where a baby is born with microtia an emotional response from the parents is common. They usually want to fix the problem as soon as possible. Parents should however be careful not to act before exploring all the options, comparing results and considering all the pros and cons of the different treatments.
Prosthetic ears are also an option in cases where trauma, infections or cancer destroys the pinna.
Thanks to the Centre for Rapid Prototyping and Manufacturing (CRPM), established in 1997, and the brilliant work of Prof Cules van den Heever, prosthodontist and medical advisor, it is now possible to build the near perfect ear. The CRPM is located at the Central University of Technology, Free State (CUT) in Bloemfontein.
By utilizing reconstruction surgery additive Manufacturing (AM) technology or 3D printing, prosthetic ears can be created from a CT scan or 3D photo in the case of a one sided microtia. In cases where a patient has bilateral microtia a model from a “donor” ear, for instance from a family member can be used. Built from silicone the ear can be shaped, molded, textured and coloured according to the patient’s liking. As the patient ages it can be adjusted at any stage.
The technology also helps to plan where to place the ear if the ear canal is absent. It is fixed to the skull by means of titanium metal pins. The surgery is short, minimally invasive and relatively cheap. Rib cartilage need not be harvested from the patient and because the prosthetic ear is not covered by live skin, it cannot extrude.
Since there is usually also hearing loss present the planning and correction should be done in conjunction with an ear nose and throat surgeon trained and experienced in ear surgery and implantable hearing solutions.
More examples of prosthetic ears. Courtesy of Prof Cules van den Heever