Microtia literally means ‘small ear’ and it is a condition that affects the outer part of the ear.
People with the condition have one or both ears that are smaller than usual or completely absent. There is usually some hearing loss in the ear that is affected.
Microtia is a congenital condition, which means that people are born with it. It is quite rare and affects around one in every 7,000 people in the UK.
To reassure you, microtia does not lead to deafness because of one ear is working harder than the other.
As your microtia only affects one ear it is not usually necessary to wear a hearing aid. But it is a good idea to ask your GP to refer you for a hearing test if you are struggling to hear or feeling worried.
You can live and develop perfectly well with limited hearing on just one side. Microtia shouldn’t stop you doing anything you want to do with your life.
As you have limited hearing on one side it is best to ask people to speak on your good side, or to position yourself so your good ear catches the conversation.
It’s especially important to be able to hear in the classroom. So sit near the front and keep the teacher on your good side.
You can ask for some quiet study time if the noise in the classroom makes it harder for you to hear the lessons.
Treatment for microtia
All treatment options available for microtia are cosmetic. This means that they only improve the look of the ear but cannot improve how it works.
There are three options available:
No surgical treatment – leaving the ear as it is.
Ear reconstruction using a rib graft to make an ear from your own tissue – this can only be done once a young person is at least 10 years old.
Attaching a false (prosthetic) ear – it will need to be replaced every two years and the fixtures need to be cleaned every day.
Waiting for treatment
The chances of successful surgery or prosthesis improve with age. This is because the ear reaches adult size around the age of six years, so treatment before this age could result in mismatched ears.
Also, if ear reconstruction is the preferred method, there is not enough cartilage in the ribcage before the age of ten.
Many parents choose not to treat the condition at a young age so the child can decide if they want to get treatment later on.
The main problems people with microtia experience are feeling self-conscious about their small ear and having hearing problems.
Some people grow their hair long to cover up the smaller ear. But others don’t mind people seeing and are happy to tell people about the condition.
It is a good idea to know a bit about microtia so you can answer people’s questions – and tell people the truth about it if they are making life difficult for you.