Skip to main content

Why Do My Child’s Ears Look Different?

One of the most incredible aspects of parenthood is watching your child grow and develop. However, it’s not uncommon for parents to notice certain physical characteristics that may raise concerns. It’s estimated that one in every 6,000 babies born has a congenital outer ear deformity. Other ear deformities are a result of an injury or trauma to the area.

What Does This Mean for My Child?

Many ear deformities are purely cosmetic and don’t pose any other health risks to your child. Some may require additional medical attention, so it’s important to raise any concerns you have about your child’s ears with their pediatrician. Even if they’re not dangerous, ear deformities can lead to self-esteem issues, so treating them early can help your child avoid those challenges down the road.

“With ear abnormalities, there are many things we can do to adjust the appearance, but some can only be done if the abnormality is caught within the first few weeks of life,” says Sarah Akkina, MD, a facial plastic and reconstructive surgeon at University of Utah Health. “If you catch things early, you can try to mold some of the structures of the ear to improve the appearance and prevent having to do more complex surgeries later.”

Common fixes for ear deformities include:

  • Ear molding: Most congenital deformities are apparent at birth, so parents can opt to correct their child’s ears with ear molding right away. This procedure involves a doctor placing a custom mold over your baby’s ear to reshape it over the course of about two to four weeks. Ideally, this will be done when the baby is a newborn and the cartilage in their ears is still soft enough to adjust.
  • Surgery: Ear surgery, or otoplasty, can be an option for children who did not have success with ear molding, or for parents who choose not to pursue ear molding. Your doctor will work with you to discuss the best option for your child’s particular condition, but they typically recommend waiting until children are around 5 to 7 years old before undergoing surgery.
“For babies born with an abnormality, seeing someone very soon is important for molding to be an option, but it’s certainly not the end of the world if you miss that timeframe. We can intervene at any time, even when people are adults.”
Sarah Akkina, MD

What Are the Common Types of Outer Ear Abnormalities?

Ear deformities can be congenital, meaning present at birth, or acquired, meaning caused by an injury or condition later in life.

Congenital Ear Deformities

  • Prominent ears: Also called protruding ears or prominauris, these stick out more than two centimeters from the side of your child’s head, regardless of the actual size of the ears.
  • Constricted ears: This deformity can vary but typically involves the rim of the ear looking like its folded over.
  • Stahl’s ear: Ears with a pointy shape caused by an extra fold of cartilage on the outer ear.
  • Cryptotia: When the cartilage of the top part of the ear appears to be “buried” underneath the skin.
  • Microtia: In this condition, a baby is born with an underdeveloped external ear. Cases range from mild to severe. In severe cases, the outer ear may be completely absent. Severe grades of microtia often also include hearing loss, so early intervention and medical care is very important.

“When a patient has more obvious abnormalities in the outer ear, we really want to make sure we check their hearing early,” Akkina says. “Microtia can be associated with some syndromes as well, so it’s really important that those babies have a full work-up with a medical team to make sure they’re evaluated for any other congenital abnormalities or syndromes.”

Acquired Ear Deformities

  • Cauliflower ear: When the external ear experiences repeated trauma, blood accumulates around the cartilage and causes the ear to have a bumpy appearance. This condition is commonly seen in wrestlers, boxers, and martial artists.
  • Ear keloids: After minor trauma or injury, the ear can develop scar tissue that can grow to be quite large. Piercings are one of the most common causes of these.
  • Ear hemangiomas: These are benign growths that usually develop in infancy. They typically resolve on their own. If they do not, they can be treated with medication or be surgically removed.

“With trauma, see someone right away because interventions can be done early to prevent worse deformities from happening,” Akkina says. “Seeing a specialist immediately can help you understand the treatment pathway.”

So, if you notice that your child’s ears look different, don’t panic. Consult their pediatrician to get a diagnosis and talk about treatment options to ensure your child’s optimal development and well-being.