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Ear Canal Stenosis

Reviewed by: Amy W. Anzilotti, MD
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What Is Ear Canal Stenosis?

Ear canal stenosis is a narrow ear canal. Most kids with the condition were born with it. In some kids, the outer ear and eardrum don’t form normally. The parts of the inner ear, including the auditory (hearing) nerve, are usually normal.

If ear canal stenosis (stuh-NO-sis) leads to hearing loss or other problems, surgery can help.

What Are the Signs & Symptoms of Ear Canal Stenosis?

Ear canal stenosis can happen in one or both ears. If the stenosis is mild, that may be the only sign. In more severe stenosis, kids may have hearing loss (because the sound can’t get through the narrow ear canal) and frequent infections of the ear canal (otitis externa). If skin and debris gets trapped in the ear canal and behind the eardrum, a cholesteatoma can develop. The cholesteatoma may damage the middle ear and lead to hearing problems.

Some children with ear canal stenosis also have a genetic syndrome such as Treacher Collins syndrome or Goldenhar syndrome.

What Causes Ear Canal Stenosis?

Doctors don't know exactly why ear canal stenosis happens. It may be caused by genetic changes (mutations).

How Is Ear Canal Stenosis Diagnosed?

If a baby has problems with how their outer ear formed or fails a newborn hearing screen, doctors will check for other problems by doing an exam and more hearing tests.

Imaging studies, such as a CT scan, usually aren't done until children are closer to 6 years old. That's because the bones around the ear grow a lot early in life.

How Is Ear Canal Stenosis Treated?

All kids with ear canal stenosis need regular follow-up with an otolaryngologist (ear, nose, and throat doctor). The doctor will check the child’s hearing and look for any other problems. Treatment may not be needed for mild ear canal stenosis. Kids with severe stenosis may need surgery to widen the ear canal. They may also need a hearing device for hearing loss.

What Else Should I Know?

If your child has ear canal stenosis and needs treatment, your doctor can help you decide on the best plan for your child.

Reviewed by: Amy W. Anzilotti, MD
Date reviewed: January 2023