Jonas Hurst: It’s estimated that nearly 5% of babies are born with abnormally shaped or prominent ears. Dr. David Gault, one of the world’s leading ear specialists, has recently devised a very simple device which could solve the problem in a matter of weeks without the need for distressing surgery. Well David’s here today along with Mary McLoughlin and four month old Eva, who you might have just heard, who’s currently wearing David’s Ear Buddies, as you can see right there, being taped back at the moment; we’ll talk about that in just a minute. David, first of all, very interesting story about how you got into this, and helped devise Ear Buddies. It was to do with one of your own children.
Dr. David Gault: Yes, interestingly my son, who is now 15, had a funny kink, if I can describe it, it’s an abnormal fold in the ear, which is the devil of a job to treat surgically, and we just moulded it with a little splint and found out that after a few weeks that it had hardened in the right place.
Jonas Hurst: And years later, it’s absolutely fine. So what would have happened in the past, they would have just left them like that?
Dr. David Gault: I think over the last 30 years or so, people have been looking at ways of reshaping the ear because the ear at birth is very very floppy, like a wet piece of paper, and as long as you hold the shape of how it is when the baby is born or a few days after, it will harden in a good position. The Mums are responsible for the floppiness of the ear because their hormones have an effect on the cartilage and make it particularly wobbly.
Jonas Hurst: Which brings me to you Mary. It’s not really an embarrassing thing, but you worry about your child growing up with slightly odd shaped ears, like Eva. What was wrong with Eva’s ears?
Mary McLoughlin: The right ear in particular was protruding.
Jonas Hurst: It something you’d like to correct, for the baby’s benefit?
Mary McLoughlin: Definitely.
Jonas Hurst: And so, how did you hear about Ear Buddies.
Mary McLoughlin: When I took Eva for her six-week check, my GP referred me to Dr. Gault.
Jonas Hurst: So it is out there then. Is it on the NHS?
Dr. David Gault: We met in an NHS hospital when the splints were fitted. If you like, I’m trying to do myself out of business. The Neurosurgeons used to sew up head injuries many years ago, but people wear seat belts now, and don’t hit the wind-screen so much, so this is a version of that; trying to prevent the ear requiring an operation later in life.
Jonas Hurst: Was that just down to you having a GP that kind of knew about them? Do all GPs know about Ear Buddies?
Dr. David Gault: I wasn’t taught about it in medical school. It’s one of these things that we’re starting to put forward as a piece of information for everyone to latch on to, so that if they do want to reshape the ear without the need for surgery, they can.
Jonas Hurst: So let’s talk about Eva. Eva was born with a protruding ear. Was it just her right ear, or was it both ears?
Mary McLoughlin: I think the other one is a little protruding too, but not anything like as bad.
Jonas Hurst: Perhaps David you could tell us how Ear Buddies work? You put the splint in to shape the ear in the correct way and it just stays there and holds the ear in place? Is that what happens?
Dr. David Gault: Yes, if you don’t do anything about the ear early on in life, it will just harden in the position that it is in. Children have very short necks, and their shoulder comes forwards and hits the ear when it’s protruding and makes it go even further forwards, and sometimes they’re sleeping abnormally, and if you just try and control it gently, put the splint in, which fits in, you can have a look at a splint if you want.
Jonas Hurst: Yeah let’s have a look. And you leave it in 24 hours a day?
Dr. David Gault: Tape it in, and you leave it in until the tapes need changing. That can be 3 weeks, 2 weeks, depends. It’s a little splint, and if you take a little model of an ear, the splint would fit just in that little grove there to try and shape it.
Jonas Hurst: You literally just slide the splint in there, tape it in…
Dr. David Gault: And a lot of people don’t have this fold in their ear, its bowed forwards like that, so we’re trying to bend the ear back and create that fold there. For other people, the whole bowl of the ear is quite prominent so you reshape that bit, tape it in, make that fold, and then strap the whole ear back.
Jonas Hurst: How long does it have to stay in?
Dr. David Gault: Depends when you start. If you catch the problem at birth, a splint for as little as 2 weeks would sort the problem out.
Jonas Hurst: Solve it forever?
Dr. David Gault: Yes! But a lot of the referrals are a little later on. Look at all the advantages here. You got short hair so the tape sticks. In the first few weeks of life, the baby will stay at night in whatever position you put them in the cot. Whereas 2 weeks later they’re moving around a little more. And in the first few weeks of the life the baby can’t reach up and pull things to bits.
Jonas Hurst: As a mother Mary, you must have been worried about doing it. It’s 2 things. You’re worried about Eva growing up, having an oddly shaped ear, but at the same time, you don’t want to hurt her in any way. Were you worried about the Ear Buddy. She’s got tape now which is simply holding the ear in place. Does it annoy her? Is she in any pain?
Mary McLoughlin: I think it is a little uncomfortable when it starts to fall off. I do, as Dr. Gault said, just change it when it is necessary. It’s almost falling off at that point so it doesn’t hurt too much. I think you’ve got to look further along, down the line.
Jonas Hurst: It’s a brave thing I think for a parent to do. I mean you’re doing it for the right reasons. When you have a baby, it’s so precious that you don’t want to damage her, or hurt her so, it’s a brave thing to do.
Mary McLoughlin: I’m just looking at when she’s older. If it avoids surgery then I think it’s a good thing. That’s what I like about it anyway.
Jonas Hurst: What about the research? What evidence is there? Something like 9 out of 10 babies it works for? But have we seen the babies then grow up to an older age and the ear be fine?
Dr. David Gault: Well what you said earlier on about it’s a brave thing for the Mum’s to do is the crucial thing. You see if the Mum is diligent, if the Mum does it, and keeps the tape on, applies the splints, it will either work or have a good chance of working.
Mary McLoughlin: Well I can see an improvement already, to be honest.
Dr. David Gault: That’s the sort of thing that happens. Where the Mum is a bit tentative about doing it, and they put it on one night, don’t do it the other. Well of course it doesn’t work as well.
Jonas Hurst: What is the maximum age a baby or child can be where you can use the splints?
Dr. David Gault: Personally I think it is a little more difficult beyond six months, because the children do tend to often reach up and pull the thing off, but below that age they cope with it very well. One time we put a splint in for a photograph in a child of 18 months and forgot about it, and 2 or 3 days later, she still had it in and hadn’t noticed it was there, so it doesn't cause a great deal of discomfort.
Jonas Hurst: And just for the people that want to know, the different conditions Ear Buddies can be used for are Bat Ear, Lop Ear, Cup deformity, Stahl’s Ear, Cryptotia, Rim kink. What are they, without going through each one individually?
Dr. David Gault: Well if the ear is all there, but is badly folded, you can reshape it with a splint. A lot of the patients I’m treating don’t have an ear, and I’m making them an ear. You have to reshape something that’s already there. Stahl’s bar is just a big kink like that. A prominent (bat) ear is just one that sticks out, and we put it back. A lop ear hangs down like that, and Cryptotia just means it’s hidden.
Jonas Hurst: If you don’t treat them, is it a problem, or is it just something that doesn’t look so nice?
Dr. David Gault: You’ve hit it right on the head there. It’s a look thing. It’s a cosmetic thing. The ear, if it is cupped, it will receive sound slightly better, but we have a conventional thing right now that you don’t look right unless your ears are tucked back and very neat.
Jonas Hurst: Mary, do you find that it affects her hearing at all?
Mary McLoughlin: No
Jonas Hurst: The tapes are covering a lot of her ear. Not at all?
Mary McLoughlin: Not that I’ve noticed
Jonas Hurst: That would be a problem wouldn’t it? That balance of language development at that age, if they’re not hearing correctly is that an issue?
Mary McLoughlin: But I think you could cut the tape thinner. If you thinned the tape down, you could…
Dr. David Gault: But if you put a very thin hat on your head, you still hear. It’s not that we’re blocking the ear canal, we’re just putting a splint in the rim.
Jonas Hurst: That’s the thing actually. In a hat you probably wouldn’t even see that she’s got the tape there.
Mary McLoughlin: It does come with a hat as well.
Jonas Hurst: It does come with a hat! Oh it actually comes with a hat! So this is it. You buy Ear Buddies and it comes with the Ear Buddies themselves and a hat.
Dr. David Gault: A little hat to hold it on with.
Jonas Hurst: That’s brilliant. That’s a selling point! The thing is, when people first came up with the idea of braces for teeth, it was probably a very similar issue, and ideally I guess what you want is Ear Buddies to be as normal as braces, as in for people to see a child with a taped back ear, for it to look as normal as a child in braces.
Dr. David Gault: That’s exactly true.
Jonas Hurst: Ok. Longterm results that we’ve talked about. It’s a guarantee is it?
Dr. David Gault: It’s not a guarantee. It may not work. If you’re very diligent at reshaping the ear, there’s a really good chance you’ll maintain that shape as the ear hardens.
Jonas Hurst: And the conditions we’ve talked about. Are these obvious conditions immediately from birth? Did you notice Eva’s ears from birth, from day one?
Mary McLoughlin: More or less, yes.
Jonas Hurst: And that is the best time to tackle it?
Dr. David Gault: It is but you’ve got to be very careful with your criticism of people that miss it at birth because some babies ears aren’t actually prominent at birth, but as the head changes shape or regrows in the firsts few months, the ears may just kick out and become prominent then, so it’s not unusual to find 2 groups of patients, some that present at birth, and some that present at a couple of months.
Jonas Hurst: And also, I just think it’s important to say, they don’t have to wear the hat the whole time, it stays on with the tape. And just to go back to the original story about your son, was it?
Dr. David Gault: Yes
Jonas Hurst: How old is he now?
Dr. David Gault: 15
Jonas Hurst: 15. Ears fine?
Dr. David Gault: Fine.
Jonas Hurst: It’s a great example. And you’re obviously very happy with the treatment and will continue to use it.
Mary McLoughlin: Absolutely, yes.
Jonas Hurst: Fantastic. Mary, little Eva, who’s been an angel, and David, thank you very much for coming in. Thank you.
Dr. David Gault: Pleasure.
Mary McLoughlin: Thank you.