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Understanding Stahl's Ear and the Benefits of Ear Molding

After your baby is born, you’ll most likely look your new son or daughter over from the top of their head to the tips of their toes. And one thing your eyes might settle on is their tiny ears. 

Most of the time, the tops of babies’ ears have a rounded appearance. But some babies are born with an ear that looks pointed, elfin or triangular at the top. The condition is called Stahl’s ear (some people refer to it as Spock Ear or Vulcan Ear because the ear looks like those of the character Dr. Spock from Star Trek).

Stahl’s ear happens when a baby’s ear cartilage doesn’t fold correctly before they are born. “One of the ear structures called the antihelix has an additional arm that extends backward. There can be a point on the ear where this additional arm ends,” said Carrie Liu, MD, a pediatric ear, nose and throat (ENT) specialist with Banner – University Medicine. This point can be visible at the top of the ear.

Stahl’s ear can run in families, but there’s usually no known cause. It generally affects only one ear, though it happens in both ears about 20% of the time.

Stahl’s ear is something that can be treated when your child is a baby as their ear cartilage is flexible. Most parents choose to treat Stahl’s ear because children may have self-esteem or social issues if their ears look a lot different than those of other children when they get older. “It can also affect the child's ability to wear helmets and become a safety concern if it coincides with an ear that is prominent,” Dr. Liu said.

We spoke with Dr. Liu to learn more about treating Stahl’s ear.

How can Stahl’s ear be treated?

If your baby has Stahl’s ear, you’ll want to talk to a health care provider such as a pediatrician or otolaryngologist (ENT). They can talk to you about your options and answer any questions about your baby’s condition. 

Often, a process called ear molding can treat Stahl’s ear. In the early weeks of a baby's life, it's easy to reshape their ear cartilage. Ear molding can form the ear into a more typical shape. It's painless and doesn't require surgery, so there are no incisions or anesthesia.

“Ear molding has a high success rate and can achieve an almost entirely normal-looking ear,” Dr. Liu said.

Ear molding should be started before a baby is six weeks old and ideally as close to birth as possible. That’s when the cartilage is most flexible. 

Your baby’s health care provider will carefully check your baby's ear structure and make a custom silicone cradle that puts light pressure on the ear. Over time, the pressure gently guides the cartilage into a more rounded shape. The cradle is soft, flexible and comfortable and your baby's ear gradually adapts.

Most babies need to keep the cradles on for at least six weeks and they are usually changed once or twice during that period. Your provider can tell you what to expect in your baby’s treatment, depending on their ear structure and other considerations. Your baby can move and play comfortably while wearing the ear molds.

For babies who aren’t treated with ear molding when they are young, surgery can be an option at age 5 or 6, when their ears have reached adult size.

The bottom line

Stahl’s ear is a condition where a baby is born with a pointed ear. While it’s not physically harmful, it can lead to self-esteem problems in children who are self-conscious about the shape of their ears as they get older. 

Ear cartilage is very flexible in the weeks after birth, so ear molding can reshape the cartilage into a more rounded appearance. It’s best to start ear molding as soon as possible after a baby is born. The process can take six weeks or more.

Your baby’s pediatrician or a health care provider with Banner Health can evaluate your baby’s ear and help you come up with a treatment plan. Banner Health offers pediatric ear, nose and throat (ENT) services, including ear molding, with a team of experienced health care providers that care for each child individually. 

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