December 20, 2017
Everyone likes to hear good news. If you have ever been self-conscious about your ears “sticking out”, you will be especially happy to learn that there is now an easier, less invasive way to reposition them, thanks to the unique properties of a lightweight metal alloy called Nitinol (UNS N01555), a super-elastic material made from nickel and titanium.
A faster fix and shorter recovery
Suitable for adults, teens and children over the age of seven, Earfold® is an alternative treatment to the traditional ear pinning and ear surgery (known as ‘otoplasty’). It has been gaining popularity in recent years for its convenience, shorter recovery time and ability to preview the end result before the simple 20-minute procedure.
The Earfold® is a small implant with a pre-set, curved shape. On the day of the treatment, patients only need a local anaesthetic while it is inserted into the ear using a small handheld device that holds the implant flat. Once in position and released, the Earfold® takes up its curved shape again, repositioning the ear at the angle that was agreed upon before the operation. All because of the remarkable reshaping properties of Nitinol.
Inspired by a coat hanger
The inventor, Dr. Norbert Kang explains in a 2017 interview, “My intention was to offer patients and surgeons a treatment option that is quick, more predictable, has lower rates of recurrence, has low infection rates, offers patients some degree of control over the final outcome, and is reversible and correctable.”
Dr. Kang had originally been using a technique to correct the ear prominence by bending and stitching the actual ear cartilage but then wondered if he could make something that would do the same job. The idea for the device started off in his garage, playing with a wire coat hanger.
Dr. Kang’s ultimate goal was to avoid some of the problems inherent in standard surgical and non-surgical otoplasty techniques. Using Nitinol helped him achieve his goal.
“The alloy has a number of important properties including super-elasticity and shape memory. Therefore, when inserted into the front of the ear, Earfold® is able to fold and reshape the underlying cartilage according to the shape that has been pre-programmed into the implant.”
While Nitinol is the hero of this innovative medical implant, the results are pure gold. Literally, as the Nitinol is coated with 24-carat gold to reduce the visibility under the skin. Both substances are biocompatible (i.e. they should not react to your body) and widely used in many other healthcare products.
Earfold® has now been in use since 2011 and data continues to be collected to confirm that treatment with the implant produces durable and consistent correction of prominent ears. The ears look and move naturally and satisfaction rates for patients are high. Nitinol can literally ‘bend your ear’. In a good way!