Surgery of the ear, also known as otoplasty, is a procedure that helps reduce the prominent look or malformed shape of the ears. Ear surgery is common in both children and in adults. There is no doubt that prominent ears can be a source of teasing and ridicule, especially in young children. For younger patients, malformed ears can be a source of psychological stress. Many older patients presenting for ear reshaping surgery often say that they have been contemplating surgery for some time, usually even back to their teenage years, but haven’t had the courage to go through with it. Many patients have been teased or have felt self-conscious about their ears for much of their life.
It’s true that undergoing elective surgery requires an investment in terms of time, courage, and money. But once patients understand what surgery can accomplish, they are often reassured and decide that they can do it. Cosmetic procedures to reduce the prominence of the ears or make their shape more normal can significantly increase a person’s self-image and give them greater confidence. Earlobe surgery to reduce the size of the earlobes and to fix torn or stretched earring holes is also very common.
There is no “ideal” time to have ear-reshaping surgery. On the younger spectrum, once children begin to enter school and feel self-conscious about their ears, it is usually a good time to be discussing surgery with a surgeon. This can occur as early as age 5. The best way to decide whether or not it’s time for you to discuss surgery is to decide how much your ears are bothering you. If you feel you are ready for a change, then it’s time to discuss your concerns with your surgeon and develop a treatment plan.
Otoplasty may involve incisions, or may be amenable to “incisionless” techniques depending on the shape of the ear. There are numerous surgical techniques involved in correcting ear irregularities, and the specific technique is dependent on each patient’s specific ear deformities. Your specific concerns and surgical plan will be discussed during your consultation.
General (children) or local (most adults)
Length of surgery
1 to 2.5 hours
Length of stay
Outpatient (home the same day)
Back to school/work
May be resumed in 3 weeks
Mild to moderate (anticipate 2 to 3 days of prescription pain medication)
Mild to moderate (expect “sociable” by 2 weeks)
Possible (will decrease within 2 weeks)
Removed within a week and replaced with smaller dressings and/or a headband
Swelling will be minimized and final results visible 1 to 2 weeks following surgery.
What is “incisionless” otoplasty?
Traditional methods of ear reshaping surgery involve making an incision on the back (and sometimes the front) of the ear in order to perform the necessary reshaping. This is a well-accepted and common technique. In fact, this is how most ear reshaping surgery is performed. However, certain patients may be candidates for “incisionless” surgery where no incision is made on the back of the ear. When patients are selected appropriately, the results can be equal to results using the “open” technique where an incision is made. The underlying shape and problem of the deformity is important in determining whether or not you are a candidate for incisionless surgery. Ask your surgeon about incisionless techniques and he or she can tell you if you are an appropriate candidate.
Will I be awake or asleep for surgery?
This is dependent on your preference and also your surgeon’s preference. Some patients want to be under “twilight” because they feel it’s safer than general anesthesia, and other patients prefer general anesthesia because they just “want to be out” and not know what’s going on. It is important to keep in mind that general anesthesia is very safe for those patients who are generally healthy. Additionally, some surgeons have a very strong preference and will only perform your ear reshaping surgery one way or the other. Regardless, both types of anesthesia are acceptable and you will need to develop a plan with your surgeon prior to surgery.
What are the limitations of ear reshaping surgery?
There are certain limitations to these procedures. It is very common for some degree of asymmetry between the two ears to exist, even after surgery. This is because ears are generally not the same to begin with. Additionally, the stiffness of your ear cartilage may have an impact on your overall result. Stiff cartilage may hinder getting the amount of “ear setback” that you desire or may cause warping after surgery. The goal of ear reshaping surgery is to make the ears less noticeable. As long as you understand this goal, then you are ready to proceed.