Pediatric Microtia Surgery Treatment & Management
- Author: Arturo Bonilla, MD; Chief Editor: Ravindhra G Elluru, MD, PhD more...
Indications for surgery
Auricular reconstruction for unilateral microtia usually begins in children aged 6-7 years, depending on the child's size. Because the pinna reaches about 85-90% of its adult size at this age, surgery earlier than 6-7 years of age is generally not recommended or accepted worldwide. By this age, the child is usually large enough that rib size is sufficient to allow harvesting of an adequate rib graft. If the child is still small, the surgical procedure is postponed until an adequate rib for the framework can be harvested.
For example, if a very small 6-year-old child presents with microtia, postponing auricular reconstruction until 7-8 years of age, when rib growth is sufficient, is reasonable. On the other hand, if a very large 5-year-old child presents with microtia, the surgeon may consider reconstruction sooner because of adequate rib size; however, this is not the norm.
The ideal time to begin the reconstruction is the summer before the first grade. By the time the child starts the first grade, at least two of the three surgical procedures can be completed, allowing the child to have the semblance of an ear. Children tend to be teased during these early school years when the ear is not yet reconstructed.
Surgical reconstruction in children with bilateral microtia is also started around 6-7 years of age, depending on their size. Before the pinna reconstructions, a computed tomography (CT) scan of the temporal bones is obtained to evaluate for ear-canal and middle-ear reconstructive surgery.
The ear reconstructions using the natural cartilage technique are started before the ear-canal surgery (atresiaplasty). If an attempt is made to open the canal before the external ear reconstruction, the elasticity of the "virgin" skin and the circulation are compromised. In addition, the scar tissue resulting from the ear-canal surgery makes it more difficult to attain the ideal result.
Because these children are dependent on bone-conduction hearing aids, the goal of starting earlier is to finish at least one ear. The canal may be opened soon after the ear is reconstructed. Obtaining adequate hearing without hearing aids is the eventual goal. If the child is not a candidate for atresia surgery, the bone-anchored hearing aid (BAHA) is also an option.
Contraindications for surgery
Contraindications to rib surgery for microtia reconstruction include high-risk surgical status and chest-wall deformities. In addition, patients with pulmonary hypoplasia are not candidates for rib-cartilage surgery, because of the potential risk of a pneumothorax (though in the hands of an experienced microtia surgeon, this event is extremely rare).
Options for Hearing Correction
There are several options for hearing correction in patients with unilateral microtia and atresia, as follows:
No intervention - Because the child has a normal-hearing ear, the use of the softband with auditory processor is optional
BAHA Softband - This is basically a headband with a vibratory auditory processor.
Ear-canal surgery (ie, atresiaplasty or canalplasty) - A CT scan of the temporal bones must be obtained to evaluate the anatomy of the middle ear and inner ear and identify the location of the facial nerve; whether the child is a candidate for ear-canal surgery depends on the favorability of the anatomy
Bone-anchored auditory processor - This is an option if the child is not a candidate for ear-canal surgery or if the family prefers this option regardless of candidacy for the ear-canal procedure; the soonest a child with microtia and atresia can undergo this option is 5 years of age because of the thinness of the skull at this age.
Middle-ear implant system - This system is not yet approved by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and is generally not a primary option
Similar options are available for hearing correction in patients with bilateral microtia and atresia, except for the no-intervention option, as follows:
Bone-anchored auditory processor
Middle-ear implant system
The most common options are the bone-anchored auditory processor and the ear-canal surgery.
Surgical Options and Natural Cartilage Technique
Surgical options for treatment of microtia and atresia are as follows::
Natural cartilage technique (rib technique) - For the past 50 years, this technique has been the "gold standard," and it continues to be the most widely accepted microtia repair technique worldwide; approximately 98-99% of microtia surgeons utilize the natural cartilage technique as their preferred choice
Alloplastic implant (porous polyethylene implant) [2, 3] - This technique is used by a few surgeons, though it is not widely accepted, because of the plastic foreign body material and the hardness of the implant; there is a risk of infection, rejection, or fracture over the lifespan of the implant
Prosthetic - This technique is usually reserved for failed reconstructions; a few surgeons use it as the initial option, but this is very rare
No surgical intervention - Because microtia surgery is elective, the option of watchful waiting by the patient should always be offered
Unilateral microtia and atresia
Tanzer and Brent advocated multistage reconstructions, which are currently favored by most ear reconstruction surgeons worldwide. Some surgeons favor a two-stage procedure. Microtia reconstruction using the natural cartilage technique involves three surgical stages. To optimize the healing process, there is a 2-month interval between stages 1 and 2 and between stages 2 and 3. The three stages in the author's preferred approach are as follows:
Stage 1 - Rib-cartilage harvesting with carving and sculpting of the main ear framework, including the tragus, and insertion under a skin pocket on the side affected by microtia
Stage 2 - Formation of the lobule (ie, earlobe) and deepening of the conchal base
Stage 3 - Separation and elevation of the ear with insertion of an implant wedge and a postauricular full-thickness skin graft
In cases of bilateral microtia, the surgical procedures are combined in order to minimize anesthesia time.
Stage 1: rib-cartilage harvesting and framework insertion
The first stage consists of two separate components, as follows:
Harvesting the costal cartilage
Inserting the carved sculpted cartilage into a skin pocket on the microtia side
A small, slightly oblique incision is made over the sixth, seventh, and eighth ribs (see the image below). When the child is thin, the incision is usually very small (~1.0-1.5 in., or 2.5-3.5 cm). The incision is made on the side opposite the microtia because this provides the convexity required for the normal ear. In other words, if the patient has microtia on the right side, the costal cartilage is removed from the left chest area.
The synchondrosis of the sixth and seventh ribs and the cartilaginous portion of the eighth rib are harvested according to a previously measured template (see the images below).
A small piece of synchondrosis is used to form the tragus. The cartilaginous part of the eighth rib is used to form the rim or helix. The three pieces of rib are carved, sculpted, and sutured together to yield a cartilaginous framework in the shape of an ear (see the image below).
The first stage concludes with placement of the newly formed ear under the skin pocket (see the video below).
Because an epidural injection is placed while the child is under general anesthesia, it is very common to for the child to wake up without any pain or discomfort. Patients are sent home with pain medication as needed and antibiotics. An ear dressing without pressure is applied during surgery and left intact for about 3 days. At that time, the wound is checked and the ear is rebandaged.
The drain stays in place for about 5-7 days to provide negative suction so that the skin can coapt to the newly inserted framework. The child is seen 1 week after surgery to remove the drain in the office. The sutures are removed on postoperative day 7. In the image below, obtained at the 1-week postoperative visit, it is apparent that the ear has a very natural shape and that the skin color is normal.
The child usually resumes normal activity within 1 week, though heavy contact sports are restricted for approximately 4-6 weeks. The hair may be washed 1 week after surgery. The second stage of the reconstruction may be carried out approximately 2 months later.
Stage 2: formation of lobule and deepening of conchal bowl
The second stage consists of formation of the earlobe (transposition of the lobule). An incision is made both in front of and behind the skin vestige (see the image below). The skin vestige is rotated into place via a Z-plasty and spliced to the cartilaginous framework that was sculpted during the first stage. The conchal bowl is deepened as well, and the tragus is refined.
The image below shows the new ear 2 weeks after the second stage. It may be seen that the earlobe is in its natural location, the tragus is well formed, and the conchal bowl is naturally deepened.
Patients are sent home the same day, and pain medication is rarely needed. An ear dressing is placed for 3 days. Sutures are removed on postoperative day 7. Patients may resume normal activities after 1 week if the ear is protected with a protective cup. The hair may be washed soon after surgery. The third and final stage of the reconstruction may be carried out approximately 2 months later.
Stage 3: separation and elevation of ear
The final stage of the repair consists of elevating the newly formed ear from the side of the head. A full-thickness skin graft is harvested from the groin area so that the incision site can be hidden (see the image below).
An incision is made behind the newly constructed ear, and the undersurface is undermined. A small, custom-designed alloplastic wedge is placed behind the ear and covered with a conchal-based flap. The full-thickness skin graft is then placed and sutured with 6-0 polypropylene sutures. Once the graft is secured, a sterile sponge is placed to prevent a seroma or hematoma. An ear dressing without pressure is applied. (See the video and the image below.)
The surgical procedure lasts approximately 2 hours, and the patient goes home the same day with pain medication as needed and antibiotics. The sponge behind the ear is removed in 1 week, and the sutures are removed 1 week later. Contact sports are avoided for about 4 weeks. The hair may be washed a few weeks after surgery.
The images below are "before" and "after" pictures of a patient with grade III microtia and atresia treated by means of the natural cartilage technique.
Bilateral microtia or atresia
Children born with bilateral microtia or atresia are treated differently from those with unilateral microtia or atresia. Computed tomography (CT) of the temporal bones is performed before the onset of the first microtia surgery. The CT scan will reveal the anatomy of the outer, middle, and inner ear.
To minimize surgical intervention, combination stages are performed in patients with bilateral microtia. In other words, after the first stage of surgery on one side, the contralateral first stage and the ipsilateral second stage may begin within 4-6 weeks. After an interval of 2 months, the next combination stage, consisting of the contralateral second stage and the ipsilateral third stage, is performed. After another 2 months, the contralateral third stage is performed.
After 3-4 months, the ear canal may be drilled to improve hearing status (if the anatomy is favorable). Although beginning the middle-ear surgery early for hearing improvement is advantageous, the surgical risks must be considered. The most common risk associated with middle-ear surgery is restenosis of the external auditory canal. The most detrimental risk is actual damage to the facial nerve, though such damage is extremely rare. As a result, the CT scan must be examined carefully so that the location of the facial nerve can be tracked.
Ongoing technical developments
Technical options for microtia reconstruction are being developed and studied. Cao et al described a tissue-engineered autologous cartilage to use in place of harvested rib cartilage. In this approach, autologous chondrocytes are harvested and seeded into a mesh that is shaped in the form of the normal ear. This new framework is then inserted under the microtic vestige as a first-stage procedure. If successful in the long term, this form of cartilage harvesting may supplant present-day rib harvesting and may completely replace the plastic porous polyethylene alloplastic implant. Other investigators have also reported promising results with similar approaches.[5, 6]
Natural cartilage technique
If done correctly, this option gives the best and longest-lasting results with minimal complications. Potential complications include an unpleasant aesthetic result, infection, and bleeding. A pneumothorax during rib excision is a very rare complication.
Alloplastic porous polyethylene implant
Because the polyethylene is a foreign material, the risk of infection, rejection, and fracture (see the video below) exists for life. Loss of hair, loss of sensation, or an unsightly scar on the scalp can also occur as a complication of the harvesting of the temporoparietal fascia flap. Another common complaint is that the plastic material used to reconstruct the ear is very hard and that it hurts to sleep on the side of the alloplastic implant.
There are several specialists that should be involved in the management of a child with microtia and atresia, including the following:
Neonatologist - This specialist is in charge of alerting pediatrician and other specialists to the microtia
Primary care physician (pediatrician or family physician) - This individual is usually the primary doctor who refers to all of the multiple specialties
Geneticist - This individual performs a detailed family history, rules out other syndromes, and assesses the chances of having another child with microtia
Microtia/ear reconstruction surgeon - This specialist must be involved early on so as to educate the parents about the treatment of microtia
Otolaryngologist/neurotologist - This specialist monitors for ear infections and hearing loss and is also involved with ear canal surgery recommendations
Audiologist - This professional performs hearing tests
Speech/language therapist - This professional is involved if there is a concern about speech delay
Psychologist (rarely necessary) - The participation of this specialist may be required if there are psychological issues with the child or the family
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