What are the Different Kinds of Prosthetic Ears?

Judith Smith Sullivan

Prosthetic ears are artificial ears, typically made from silicone, which attach temporarily to the head. They may be complete ears or partial ears depending on the nature of the deformity they are meant to correct. Individuals who suffer from birth deformities, injuries or illnesses often choose to use a prosthetic ear or to undergo reconstructive surgery. Different types of prosthetic ears might be attached with an adhesive, clips, magnets or by a “slip on” method.

Reconstructive ear surgery is the alternative to wearing prosthetic ears.
Reconstructive ear surgery is the alternative to wearing prosthetic ears.

Often, a person who needs a prosthetic ear will have one intact ear and one deformed ear. To create prosthetic ears, a mold is taken of the intact ear that will be used to make the prosthetic ear. A mirror image of the intact ear is painted with tiny veins in a matching skin tone so that the prosthetic looks real. The patient usually visits to the doctor two or three times for the molding, skin tone matching and fitting.

Prosthetic ears may be complete ears or partial ears.
Prosthetic ears may be complete ears or partial ears.

In some cases, prosthetic ears are attached to the head with medical adhesive. Some individuals find this too difficult for daily use and only wear their prosthesis occasionally. For that reason, most individuals prefer to have the clip-on or magnet style prosthesis. Both of these types of attachment require implants.

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To support the prosthetic ear, two or three implants are permanently attached to the head. The ear either clips or snaps magnetically on to the implants. The individual can easily remove the ear before bathing or participating in contact sports, but it does not fall off during normal day to day activity. If the ear is not completely missing, a “slip-on” prosthetic can be fitted around the deformed ear tissue. This type of prosthetic does not require implants.

It is possible for prosthetic ears to wear out. Individuals will often take the prosthesis on and off holding the same area, eventually rubbing off the paint and discoloring the ear. When the difference becomes obvious, a new prosthetic, usually, must be made.

Reconstructive ear surgery, or otoplasty, is the alternative to a prosthetic. Cartilage is taken from the rib cage and used as the material to form the ear. It is permanently attached to the head and typically lasts many years. Since it is made of tissue, the ear can function normally and even grow.

The disadvantage to reconstructive surgery is that there is no guarantee of success. Just like any reconstructive surgery, much depends on the doctor's skill as a plastic surgeon. It is also an intrusive surgery that leaves a scar and requires recovery after the cartilage is harvested. It is not typically performed on children less than five or six years of age. It is also much more expensive than purchasing a prosthetic.

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