Advice about The Ears

Parent Q&A

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  • Ear birth defects and doctors

    (4 replies)

    I'm looking for anyone who has experience with external ear birth defects. My beautiful daughter was born with a constricted ear, where the cartilage folds over on the top. I'm looking to meet other mommas of babies/kids with the same or similar issue. I'm also looking for recommendations for pediatric ear plastic surgeons or ENTs who specialize in this condition or related conditions like microtia. Thanks!

    We had a son born with this condition as well as atresia ( no ear canal). After much research and meeting with surgeons there is only one surgeon to go to. His name is John Reinisch and he is at Cedar Sinai in LA. He comes up to Palo Alto periodically to do joint operations with a Stanford doctor. His office number is (310) 385-6090. There is no one with more experience with this condition than him. People travel from all over the world to see him. I can't recommend him highly enough. You are welcome to contact me directly for more specific information. As far a a community look at they are a great resource and have open forums about microtia ( malformation of the outer ear). 

    Hey there! Congrats on your girl. How old is she? My daughter was born in 2014 with bilateral microtia and atresia. She has a fairly large pinna on one side, smaller on the other. Both malformed with no ear canal. She uses two Ponto Plus bone conduction hearing aids on a soft band and tests within normal range (aided). She's doing really well and gets a lot of support through the Early Start program. We have Kaiser and our docs are in Oakland. If you haven't already, there are a couple of Facebook communities that are very positive and GREAT sources of information: search for BAHA Kids Club World Hearing (kids and babies who use bone conduction hearing aids, a wonderful resource for useful info), and Ear Community (tends to be more emotional support and happy stories, etc). In terms of surgeons, you can find a lot of info on the Ear Community website ( I don't have specifics to offer on surgery bc ear construction usually comes when they're older. A lot of talk about surgery sort of falls on either side of "we are going to do constructive surgery as soon as possible" or "we're going to wait until the kid is old enough to participate in the decision". So it's sort of a sensitive topic in the microtia circles. Anyhow, please ask the moderator for my email if you'd like to get in touch and I'd be happy to chat. [Note from moderator: just click on the poster's name and you can email her through our website.]

    How old is your daughter? My girl was born with a folded ear. I was told no worries, that it would unfold itself. Apparently, she was laying up against part of me in the womb that folded the upper top/side of the ear. It took a few weeks and it popped right back.

    If it's a permanent condition, wait a bit and see what your kid looks like with hair. My kid was pretty much bald until @ 2, when she finally had enough to cut. Prior to that, her ears were HUGE, just a scaled down version of my husband's massive, hairy- lobed ears. But once she got hair, it was fine. She could have fun with piercing for sure- 5 holes could fit in that meaty lobe! 

    And then, only then, consider surgery. Unless the issue impedes hearing, leave it be for acways down the road. My 2 cents....

    I'm so sorry for you and your daughter. I can recommend UCSF Center for Craniofacial Anomolies. Dr. Bill Hoffman is an amazing plastic surgeon and the pediatric otolaryngology department is top notch. The center is a multi disciplinary team with a speech pathologist and access to a pediatric geneticist. As the social worker for the team I witnessed some amazing success stories over the years. 

    You're off to a complicated start. I hope you will be able to share this story with your daughter when she is older and has forgotten about this time. 

Archived Q&A and Reviews


Ear discharge dripping (yuck!)

Sept 2006

My 22 month old son has had a leaking ear for 8 days now. First it started off with what looked like lots of ear wax coming out. After a day or so it was much more runny and slightly blood-tinged. Now a week later, it is still coming out! Mostly it is yellowish or clear, it doesn't smell, and seems to be slightly decreasing. My son doesn't seem to be experiencing any pain or fever with this, perhaps some itching as he sometimes wants to put his fingers in. I have brought him to the doctor a couple of times and have been told that his ear looks great and there is no infection. However there has been no explanation as to what this might be or when it might stop or what if any dangers there are now that all the earwax is gone plus wherever this liquid is supposed to be it isn't there anymore!

He happened to have strep throat the week before and was still on the antibiotics when this started. The doctor said, if there happened to be any infection these same antibiotics would get it. But now, it is still leaking.

Someone mentioned to me that this might be a fungus transmitted through swimming pools? though my doctor had never heard of such a thing. My son does swim in public pools but doesn't yet go underwater and rarely gets his ears wet. Has anyone ever experienced anything like this? What was it?? thanks - anon

Take the child back to the doctor ASAP and don't take ''no'' for an answer. It could be a condition called ''otitis externa'' which is an infection/inflammation of the outer ear canal, but in a 22-month-old, it could be more serious. If the primary doctor can't figure it out, insist on a consultation with an ear, nose, and throat (ENT) specialist. And don't waste any time Robert A. Fink, M. D.

Hi-can't believe your doctor isn't explaining this to you! Anyway, last year my then 2-year-old son had the same thing, and it actually recurred once or twice. Basically, his pediatrician explained that his eardrum had a perforation as a result of his cold--the mucus was looking for another exit point--it was leaking discharge just as if it was discharging from his nose. She said it was nothing to be alarmed about, just his body's finding yet another way of letting out the infection (eyes, ears, nose, etc.). I guess the perforation/hole had not healed itself by the time he got his next cold, just a few weeks later, and the same thing happened. It has not happened with subsequent colds, though, and he seems to have no hearing problems, pain, etc. Good luck, and hang in there! Lynn

Ear Pain on Airplanes

June 2006

Every time he's flown, my 6-yr.-old son has gotten really severe pain in his ears during landings and, to a lesser extent, takeoffs. We have a big trip coming up with 7 separate flight segments and I'd like to find something to help him. A nurse recommended giving him decongestants and having him drink and chew a lot during the flights, and I'll also talk to his doctor when she returns from vacation, but I'm wondering if any parents have found anything that helps. The TravelSmith outlet in Berkeley carries some kind of earplug that's supposed to work, but I'm skeptical of such things without hearing anyone's first-hand experience. And according to the package those are only good for two uses, so for this trip the cost would be over $50. If I were confident that they'd work I'd be willing to spend the money. Any info or suggestions will be much appreciated! Kathleen

I used those Ear Planes last year when I had to fly with severe congestion and blocked ears. My doctor recommended them to me. They did OK but not great. They didn't fit great, and tended to fall out on their own. They did seem to help a little, but I wouldn't get them again. For you, I'd say they are worth trying at least once Good Luck

I have used ''Earplanes'' (the ear plugs) on airplanes myself and find them very effective at limiting ear pain. I've used them once or twice for children, but mostly my kids choose not to use them. The company makes child-sized ones, although they can be hard to find. I often use the Earplanes more than the amount recommended, and find they still work well. I generally don't need them for take-offs, just for landings, so they are good for at least two legs of a trip, and I'm sure I've used some for two or three times that amount. No more ear pain

I have had terrible ear problems my whole life. It's a real drag. I sympathize with your son. You might want to make sure everything is okay with his ears and he doesn't have fluid building up in the inner ear because his Eustachian tubes aren't draining the fluid and equalizing pressure properly or something. If he gets ear infections fairly frequently, this may indicate a problem. Anyway, to alleviate my ear pain on plane flights, I take a decongestant and use a strong nasal spray like Afrin to dry everything out. (It would be bad to use this at all frequently, but I think for a very rare traveling occasion, it's better than the alternative ear pain. It lasts eight hours.) I also chew gum sometimes during landings and yawn a lot. Good luck. Rough Landings Too

I had similar problems as a child/youth ... my doctor recommended chewing gum to ''pop'' my ears while ascending and decending. Worked pretty well, but it's still tough sometimes. Yawning helps my ears ''pop'' too. Other than that, look into Green Tortoise travel buses, they're a blast and no sudden elevation shifts! jb

If your kid doesn't have congestion and the ear pain is due to something else, decongestants won't work.

In our case, our child had some eustachian tube dysfunction and was unable to equalize ear pressure, especially terrible when she was recovering from a cold and/or flying. The ENT doc came up with the solution of using Nasonex and Affrin prior to flying, on both ends of the trip. As well, she needed to use the ear inserts called ''earplanes''--sold at drugstores.

One item of note: you can't use Affrin alone or for more than a few days at a time. Used alone, it was explained to us, you can get a rebound effect and all sorts of problems. It has to be used with the Nasonex (which is prescription only).

My child starts the regimen for three days before she flies and then stops and then three days before flight, again, on the return.

From what I was made to understand our daughter didn't have fluid baking up into her ears but air and that is why a decongestant did nothing.

Oh, yes, the ENT did a tympanogram of her inner ear to even gauge that she was having trouble with her ears Julia

''Earplanes'' - I assume these are the ear plugs you are referring to - have been a lifesaver for me. I also often had ear pain during landings, and these earplugs really do help. When I am really congested, there is still some pain, but it is reduced. I have only used the adult version, however. Also, my husband claims that you should be able to re-use them multiple times, but I've been too scared to try... Decongestants can also help - if your son is congested - though in my case they tend to lead to sinusitis. Chewing/drinking/swallowing are all good, too, but not good enough when I am congested Hope you find something that works for your son

Surgery for my hearing loss?

Sept 2005

Hi. I have a moderate hearing loss in both ears. I was told that it is probably otosclorosis. While that is not so prevelant these days (something to do with the chlorine in water), there is surgery that can be done for it. Has anyone had any experience with that type of surgery? thanks. Betty

I had ear surgery for otosclorosis about six years ago. I had the surgery at UCSF. It seemed to me a very easy process and the recovery was rapid, no problems, my hearing fully returned. I have been told to expect that at some point the hearing loss will reoccur and I can expect to wear a hearing aid. ab

Hi there, I am on otolaryngologist in Concord and Walnut Creek. Otosclerosis is fixation of the stapes bone in the middle ear that leads to a problem with conducting sound to the inner ear. The treatment is to place a stapes prosthesis to improve hearing. If this is what your doctor is proposing to do, then this is one of the most common options. It is usually a good one if there is a large air bone gap on your hearing test. Other options are to do nothing or wear a hearing aid. Hope this answers your question and helps clarify things for you. Take care

My husband has had this surgery, and here is what he said about it: I had/have otosclerosis, and I had operations on both ears. They don't operate on both ears at the same time, so you will probably have to go through it twice. The surgery is generally pretty fast, under 1 hour as I recall. The recovery can be slow. My first surgery was in L.A. at the House Ear Clinic. I went home the same day. I remained dizzy and nauseated for most of the next 24 hours, but the symptoms subsided quickly thereafter. The hearing improvement was excellent. My second surgery was with ENT group in the East Bay, Dr. T. Li. For some reason, I remained dizzy after this operation, and ended up staying in the hospital for 2 nights. Within a week or so I was fine. The operation brought my hearing up, but apparently I had some concomittant hearing loss in that ear. I went about 2 or 3 years between surgeries. In summary, I would recommend going to the Stanford ear clinic, or L.A. ear clinic if possible. Your local ENT can do the surgery, but the hearing specialists do more of them. The few days of discomfort are well worth the everyday improved hearing. Good luck!

Infant's ears folding and sticking while sleeping

June 2005

We have a 12 week old baby girl and lately her ears have been folding over and sticking when she sleeps. I put her down on her back and when she rolls to her side her ears fold over. When I pick her up I have to ''un-stick'' them and they pop back into place. If this continues, my husband and I are a little concerned that this will cause her ears to really stick out. We have searched online and talked to her doctor, but no good advice or any answers. Her Pediatrician said that he has heard of it, but has not had any one with the problem before; he has been in practice for over 20 years. Does any one know about this or has experienced it first hand? We just want to make sure she is growing healthy and strong -- we think her cartilage should have hardened by now. Thanks in advance!! New mom

My parents had this problem with MY ears so they used bandaids to keep my ears to my head (I am not making this up!). Had this not been done, though, I would of had at least one folded over ear. Happily, my ears are just fine now, although one is a little bit more flexible (!!?) than the other. Oh, and my brothers still laugh about this family 'legend.' Ah well. Once a floppy eared gal

hi. my son (now 3) had same problem when he was an infant. it went away on its own, and now his ears (although slightly big) are totally fine. i wouldn't worry about it at all... Monique

Both of my daughters (20 mos apart) experienced the same thing with their ears; they were happiest when side sleepers, and I was worried it would somehow damage the cartilage in their ears, as well! Their pediatrician assured me that they were both developing just fine, and that this was normal and would not hurt their ears functionally or ''aesthetically'' - he was right! no problems for either, and they both got over it after about 4 or 5 months of age. Check with your docs and your friends for peace of mind, but it sounds like the same thing we ended up not needing to worry about. ;) Melissa

are they sticking because they are dirty/sweaty? my kid is almost 2 and i can't believe how dirty his ears can get. he hates it but i take a washcloth and really scrub them. i think ears sticking out is because of the cartiledge sticking out i don't think them folding over could do that. maybe some gentle baby soap on a soft cloth and clean them all over? good luck

Wax in ears of a 2 year old

April 2005

We went to my family practice doctor who followed my 2 year old son since he was born. he told us that he has wax in his ears and to clean it with warm water. My 2 years old is not doing well with that. Any other tip on how to clean them? he is ok with the Qtip which I have been using for a long time now. Somebody said to put a few drops of oxygenated water to loosen that safe? thank you noah

same problem in my family-my two kids inherited wax production from me. My doc told me that after shower/washing hair, a Q-Tip dipped in rubbing alcohol-lightly dipped into the tip of ear canal works to dry out ear wax that warm water has already loosened. It seems to be working well w/my kids. They've been told that only mom or dad can do the Q-Tip proceedure. They know not to stick anything in their ears. If your son can sit still (and the doc say it's ok) drugstore wax thinning drops before bedtime are an option. Best Wishes Anon.

Earplugs for infants?

March 2005

Does anyone have experience using earplugs for infants? I want to take my baby to my dance class where the music can get kind of loud. Thanks Deb

Ear Muffs (i think they're called, not the warm fuzzy things) -- google for hearing protection. They go over the ears, like stereo head phones, minus any chords. We even found a youth size. They cost between $10-20. They block out some (enough), but not all sound. If you're going where there's music, it's important to protect small children's hearing from permanent damage. anne

We found some great earplugs for our infant at a Walgreen's (unfortunately it was on the way to Yosemite, so I can't tell you where locally to get them). They are a bright pink waxy substance and are advertised as being for children for swimming, but also have sound attenuation data on the back. You warm them up in your fingers and then smoosh them in the outer part of the ear covering the canal, but not in. They worked great for our daughter at a New Year's celebration with a live band, and now we keep them in her diaper bag just in case! Good Luck! Laura

Blocked Eustachian tube

Feb 2005

After having a cold, my left ear got blocked (full feeling in it, can't hear very well with it). I think it's a blocked Eustachian tube. My medical doctor says there isn't much to do except to ''let it run it's course.'' I'm rather worried about it, as I'm not sure it's going to drain on it's own. I've tried taking nasal decongestant to see if that will help. But it's been almost 3 weeks now. Has this happened to anyone else? What did you do? How long did it take before it cleared? Any thoughts would be appreciated. worried

Your doctor is presumably able to tell the difference between a blocked, an infected and a collapsed Eustachian tube. I've had all three over the years -- not uncommon in pilots, flight attendants and other frequent flyers. For blocked, he's probably right that you just have to wait. For infected, let's hear it for antiobiotics. For collapsed, I once had to go to a specialist at Kaiser who fitted this pressurized headset and had me drink water (same principle as giving a baby a bottle as the plance goes up or down) while he controlled the pressure. Popped the tube right open. Of course, then I also fainted since the sudden change in vertigo was too much. You might want to ask about a referral to an ENT specialist. Good luck.

I had this a while ago and it drove me CRAZY. I ended up chewing a lot of gum, drinking lots of fluids, and moving my jaw around. I read that it could last around 3 weeks, too, and it eventually went away. I don't know if the things I did had any effect, but at least I felt like I was doing something! I didn't get an infection and the ear thing cleared up pretty much on its own. Hang in there, I know it is annoying. Laurel

Try sudafed, motrin and a couple of days of Afrin (if you use afrin for more than 3-4 days, you can actually develop more nasal drainage). There's no other w! ay to unblock your tubes except for having the doctor make a little hole in your ear drum to drain it that way. If the medications don't work, go to an ENT doctor and they can puncture the hole. It allows fluid to drain and pressure to equalize. Dr. M

I get this in both ears every single time I get a cold. Takes week! s to go away, and it's very annoying. OTC decongestants don't really help. I asked my doctor about treating it once. He said the only real option was to go on high doses of antihistimene/decongestant for a long period of time -- and that the treatment would in all likelihood be worse than the disease (jitters, difficulty sleeping, dry mouth, etc.). So your doctor's probably right. Karen

Cleaning Kids' Ears

March 2004

I'm feeling so silly about this, but I'd like to know what other parents do about keeping their kids' ears clean. I've heard the old adage about not putting anything other than your elbow in your ear, which my pediatrician confirms. For a while I used Hydrogen Peroxide which works well but is a little un- nerving. So, how do you clean inside a kids ear? And what are Q-Tips for? Any advice (once you've stopped laughing) is appreciated. Anon, please

My dad is an ear doctor, and he is ADAMANTLY against using q- tips. They have a risk of puncturing the eardrum, and they compact any loose wax rather than remove it. Hydrogen pyroxide is best. You can also, first, use a bulb syringe filled with warm water to flush out any wax buildup... but then follow with the hydrogen pyroxide. Heard it all my life

I use Q-Tips to clean the outer parts of my kid's ears and a damp washcloth to clean closer to the ear canal. Amanda

You can use Q-tips to clean your kids ears....just be careful. (I think that IS what they were made for...) You, of course, wouldn't jam it in there, you'd carefully and gently swab the area you can see. My boys are now 9 and 13 and we've never had an ear-cleaning mis- hap. Go for it. We call them ''ear tickles''. anon

Clean what you can reach with a soft wet washcloth, and let nature do the rest. Really. another mom

Cotton swabs work well for the nooks and crannies of the pinna. Moisten with your favorite oil first. When we went to Kaiser they cleaned my son's ear canals with warm water and bulb syringe while he sat upright and let the water run out into one of those kidney-shaped containers. HTH!

Itchy, itchy ears

May 2003

I have terribly itchy ears. I've tried hydrogen peroxide, candling, leaving them alone, a ointment, and those asian ear cleaners. They're very waxy and distractingly itchy. Does anyone have any suggestions for this? Is it possibly fungal? What can I do for relief? I've mentioned it to both Western and non-Western doctors, but nobody seems to take it too seriously. Meantime, I can think of little else some days! Any ideas, anyone? Itchy and scratchy

Thanks for writing -- I've suffered from this problem on and off for years! Annoying, isn't it? Others have indicated that allergies can set this off, and I agree with that theory, but don't have the time right now to hunt out and evaluate the root causes. I think stress is the bigger factor. I've just experienced great relief from this problem, courtesy of my dermatologist Dr. Christine Avocoff (physician with Dr. William Crain on Webster Street in Oakland). In my case, it's seborrheic dermatitis. I got some great medications that seemed to take effect immediately. Here's hoping the relief is long-lasting. If you have other forms of dermatitis (exzema, skin sensitivity, etc.) then medication might really help you out. Don't wait; this can get painful if it's aggravated. (Ouch...) Your itchy scratchy friend

Itchy ears could be due to a food allergy. It could also be some other kind of allergy. Maybe pets, mold, new carpet, new car, perfume, ammonia, bleach, etc. anon

I am a vet, and in animals with itchy ears I immediately think of food allergies. The animals often have secondary yeast infections that need to be treated also, but with ears that itch before or between infections definately allergies and usually food related are the focus. I have had some clients when I talk about the problem in their pet mention that they had the same trouble. Don't know if there are any studies of it in people, but you may want to play with your diet and see if it makes any difference. (In animals, the allergens are usually the really common things like beef,corn, wheat, etc and it can take up to 6- 8 weeks for the itching to fade after you stop a food.) Pets sometimes teach us things

Ear wax build-up in 4-year-old

Jan 2003

My normally reasonable 4 year old son will not let anyone clean his ears, even his doctor (he struggles, hits, bites, and screams). As as result, he has a significant build-up of ear wax. Recently, he has been frequently complaining that he can not hear me when I speak. He also need us to raise the volume of the TV and music until it's pretty loud. We've tried an over- the-counter earwax removal treatment and it hasn't worked. I'd love to hear any other ideas (no pun intended!). LT

You may wish to check out foods to which your child is sensitive. Either eliminate the common ones (see Janet Zand's book SMART MEDICINE FOR AHEALTHIER CHILD for a list) or seek out a trained professional who does muscle testing. Although unusual for children, increased ear wax has been seen with low thyroid. Nori Hudson

Perhaps your child will tolerate warm water treatment, which is what ultimately helped my husband. The drug store has little squeeze containers in the ear section that you draw warm water into and then gently squeeze it into the ear. Do this a number of times and eventually the wax will soften and slide out. Mary

Just a word of caution. When my daughter was 4 she started having the same kind of hearing issues, asking for music louder, didn't hear me talking. I had her looked at by an ENT and he said she had ''congealed fluid'' in her ears. So every time she got a cold or an ear infection the fluid was building up and it had no where to go. We had her ears tested and one ear tested much worse than the other which was due to more fluid build-up behind that ear. First we put in tubes which really helped for a while. Then we ended up having her tonsils out and it was the best thing we could have done. She hasn't had a problem at all since, nearly two years. It would be worth getting that checked out. I know that tonsilectomies are much rarer than they used to be, but in our case it was very valuable. Elizabeth