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A child with microtia has an ear(s) that isn’t fully developed; microtia affects how the outer ear looks. This condition develops before babies are born, during the first four months of a mother’s pregnancy.
A child with atresia is born without an external ear canal. Atresia can be complete where there is no ear opening or there can be a very thin opening of the external ear canal. The level of hearing loss that atresia creates varies depending on the opening.
Children with microtia-atresia have both a small or absent outer ear and they are missing an ear canal.
A child with microtia-atresia may have additional health challenges, including syndromes that affect the face like hemifacial microsomia or Oculo-Auriculo-Vertebral (Goldenhar) syndrome.
When an individual has microtia or microtia-atresia and no other developmental conditions, it’s called isolated microtia.
The name can be broken down into “micro,” which means small; “otia,” which means ear; and “atresia,” which means without an opening.
Microtia happens because of a mix of genetic and environmental factors. The exact cause for most patients is not clear. Sometimes, the condition is passed to a child from a parent.
The prescription drugs Isotretinoin (Accutane) and Thalidomide can cause microtia (and other conditions) when used during early pregnancy. Both drugs are not allowed to be used in women who are pregnant.
“Mothers sometimes worry that actions they took during pregnancy caused microtia and atresia. However, except in very rare cases where the mother may have used medications known to cause microtia and birth defects, having a baby with microtia and/or atresia is not the mother’s fault. She did not eat too much or too little or dance too much or too little. She also did not allow the baby to lie in one position too long.”
- Peggy Kelley, MD
Babies of any ethnicity can get microtia-atresia. However, it’s more common in Hispanic and Native American ethnic groups.
Navajo, Inuit, Andean: 1 in 1,200 live births
Native Americans: 1 in 1,800 live births
Hispanic: 1 in 10,000 live births
Asian: 1 in 10,000 live births
Caucasian: 1 in 20,000 live births
African: 1 in 40,000 live births
Microtia can be diagnosed and seen on a 20-week ultrasound. However, it is not routinely evaluated during a normal pregnancy.
The risk of having a child with microtia-atresia is low. The risk of having more than one child with microtia-atresia is also low unless your ethnicity has a high rate of occurrence, like Native American. However, it is still rare to have parents and children or siblings with microtia-atresia.
All newborns with microtia-atresia should receive a diagnostic Auditory Evoked Potentials (AEP) (or auditory brainstem response/ABR) evaluation within three months of birth. The test can be done as early as any routine newborn hearing screening.
An AEP/ABR evaluation is completed by a Doctor of Audiology (Au.D.). It is highly recommended that newborns diagnosed with hearing loss find a pediatric audiologist for care. Learn about the Audiology, Speech and Learning Center at Children’s Colorado.
All children should receive a hearing screening when starting public school and then be referred for a diagnostic hearing test. However, hearing loss can be missed in newborns if screening isn’t done prior to hospital discharge after birth, and/or if follow-up for young children is not recommended by the pediatrician or birth hospital. This can happen if microtia/atresia is only in one ear because hearing loss in one ear is harder to detect.
In order to diagnose microtia-atresia, your child should see a microtia specialist. When you visit Children’s Colorado's Microtia Clinic, a specialist completes an evaluation of the child’s ear.
An otolaryngologist (Ear, Nose and Throat specialist) or a plastic surgeon and an audiologist, who are knowledgeable about microtia, complete the evaluation and provide a diagnosis. Sometimes, the child sees other specialists, such as a speech therapist for a language delay.
The Microtia Clinic at Children’s Hospital Colorado
Colorado Families for Hands & Voices
Parent-run organization that supports families with children who are deaf or hard of hearing without a bias around communication modes or methodology.
Colorado Hearing Resource Coordinator
Assists families with children birth to 3 -years -old in obtaining access to funding, community resources, coordination of services and providing expertise about hearing loss.
Colorado School for the Deaf and Blind
Hard of hearing and deaf adult role models who are trained to provide awareness experiences to increase understanding of the needs of a student who is hard of hearing / deaf and to improve this child’s sense of identity and self-esteem.
Online support group for individuals with Microtia and Atresia.
Phonak Guide to Access Planning
Provides information that is important to effectively and independently advocate and be responsible for your communication access supports.
Atresia is a condition in which a child is born without an ear canal. Atresia can be treated with surgery. Two procedures are available at Children’s Hospital Colorado:
If the hearing loss is sensorineural (nerve deafness), then hearing aids, preferential seating in the classroom and speech therapy are advised.
Microtia is a condition that affects how an ear looks. Depending on the child’s and parent’s wishes, treatment of the microtia affected ear can be left natural or can be reconstructed.
Reconstruction of the outer ear (ear surgery) can be done with a prosthesis or rib cartilage grafting. Reconstruction usually begins when the child is 6 or 7 years old. Boys with microtia/atresia often wait until they are 8 to 10 years old, which is when the shape of their outer ear becomes important to them.
Below is an example of a timeline of care that is adjusted for each patient’s needs.
The Microtia Clinic is held once a month in the afternoon on a Tuesday at Children’s Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus, Aurora. Appointments last 60-90 minutes.
Families meet with the ear, nose and throat specialist, a family consultant and an anaplastologist (who makes prosthetic devices) at the beginning of the visit. They meet with the audiologist as needed for hearing tests, amplification consultations and to schedule future appointments.
Families can stay longer to meet other families and patients, but are not required to do so.
Children’s Colorado provides patients and their families the unique opportunity to learn treatment and rehabilitative options for microtia and atresia from a team that supports each child with his/her own needs.
Our philosophy allows the individual patient to receive current and accurate information from a surgeon, audiologist, family consultant and anaplastologist. This allows the patient to be confident and feel supported in his/her individual treatment choices for microtia-atresia. Additional supports, such as parent-to-parent, patient-to-patient and psychological and social work resources are available as needed.